The debate about the pros and cons of painting from photographs has taken another turn around the block with a post last Tuesday in Artnewsblog (and several comments) and an update today. (Thanks to Karl for alerting me as to the update.)
My personal position is I very much enjoy working from life - but a photo can also be just one of the tools I will use to create a painting I have in mind. However, I do think that it's best not to use photos in this way unless you have also worked from life as otherwise it's difficult to know the differences between the drawings you make and the photos you take from the same spot. Once you've studied an object or place (through drawing) so you have a strong mental image and then produced a drawing as well as taken photographs and then seen the significance of the differences between these different images nobody would ever rely on photos again for the 'truth' of a place or a person. Photos rarely represent tonal values accurately and quite often get colours wrong. What they are great for is reminding you about place and the details of the bits which didn't work quite so well in one's drawing.
Working from a photo is also a great way of learning how something works (eg how do all the bits fit together) before you try drawing it from life for the first time. I think that's why, in the past, art students used to draw the statues before they were let loose on live models!
Digital images (from cameras) are very helpful if you want to try doing a painting with a particular colour theme. I try manipulating photos I've taken on a computer using photoshop before trying to produce a painting in real life - it saves wasting art supplies - and also leads to being more adventurous, for example, in the use of colour once I've seen some of the possibilities of what something could look like.
Photography is also an excellent way of practising one's compositional skills. I frequently take photos in order to try out different perspectives on an object. It's not about using a photo to create the object so much as using the camera and the viewfinder to look at what potential exists to create a piece of artwork from that particular scene or object. The photo then becomes a record of that thought.
But I do think that the artwork of those who work from photos all the time can start to look very sterile after a bit. It's the lack of imperfection which I don't like.
Technorati tags: art , drawing , painting , working from life