Closer to Truth: painting or photography? 

Someone asked which one I liked more: painting or photography. I didn’t know the answer. It depends I said.

What I do know after investigating both mediums in my work is this: painting lies closer to truth than photography. Paintings (unless you’re merely copying, but that’s a another discussion) reach deeper into yourself, and who you are. It forces you to ask questions and sometimes does not give you a clear answer. It exposes your insecurities and strengths through your creation. You can analyse every action or reaction in a painting. Strong forceful lines and bold strokes versus tentative light actions. On how you go over a section of the canvas, repeatedly until you ‘get it right’, or whether you have the patience to wait for sections of the painting to dry before applying another layer. Believe me, you can end up with big lump of grey! I have seen it in some Philip Guston’s later work. It tell you something about his mindset at the time.  A painting can expose you more than standing naked in the gallery. Truth.

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Philip Guston, “Painter III,” 1963, oil on canvas, 66” x 79” (private collection, London).

Photography on the other hand can deceive you. The photographer can manipulate the image to make you believe what is in the image is real, when it clearly isn’t. Photography is only a partial truth. Fashion photography is a facade/fantasy, meant to inspire and convince. Sure there is a huge amount of creativity involved in fashion shoot and it involves creating illusions, whether it be of wealth, power, coolness or a pure distain for life. I think, even in documentary photography, there is a huge opportunity to distort the truth, to give false claim to what is really happening. It is however probably the strongest case for truth. I think of the young Vietnamese girl Kim Phúc running naked; it is as it is.

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Napalm Girl by Nick Ut

Nude photography attempts to bring one closer to the beauty of the human form. It’s close to truth, but equally close to a lie as well. It is presenting an aesthetic based on the author’s own interpretation of beauty within the human body. So what about portrait photography? Yes it must be the truth right? I think very few portraits does truth justice. They’re rare ones that reach to that level of openness. I can think of one such portrait that come to mind that reveals an inner truth, which is Annie Leibovitz’s photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

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John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Annie Leibovitz, December 1980.

… to be continued.

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