There has been a lot of discussion concerning the use of photography in painting. Should painters work from life, direct observation, or is it OK to use photographs as a source for their work? This exhibition raises quite the opposite question—photographs based on paintings. I am being a bit unfair as Shore’s photographs are not an attempt to directly copy Claude Monet’s paintings of his famous garden at Giverny in France into photographs. However, it is quite impossible to photograph the gardens at Giverny without invoking Monet’s paintings and this is not a bad thing. In fact, Shore was commissioned in 1977 by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to photograph the gardens following their just completed extensive restorations. He did so over the following six years and this exhibition is of twenty-five photographs from that series. They are a collection given to the gallery by Dr. John Krawczyk of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.
I must admit that I have a problem with the use of photographs as a source or prop in representational art, but I am a traditionalist, a romantic and old. I believe that photography is an art form on its own and if they are good photographs you don’t need to make paintings from them and besides painting from nature is harder than using photography as a prop and even fun if you are a masochist. (I started my creative life as a photographer, then turned painter and, now, just write stuff like this.) The primary difference between Shore’s photographs and Monet’s painting is that they are in very sharp focus where Monet’s paintings are soft, impressionist images in particular the later garden images. Monet did after all invent the term Impressionism and was the daddy of it all.
A quality that both Monet’s paintings and Shore’s photographs share is that they are both breathtakingly beautiful. Shore’s photographs are typical, if typical is the right word, of fine focused large format images. I don’t know if they were shot using a four by five or eight by ten inch view camera from the information that I have, but I would guess that it would be one or the other. They are exquisite Fuji color C Prints all numbered eight from the same edition of fifty printed in 2002 and all about the same size, 41cm by 51 cm (16 by 20 inch).
Closest to Monet’s paintings is a photograph titled Water lilies that because of the flatness of subject matter it more closely resembles a Monet painting, but once again it is a far sharper image than the painter would have given us. It is the colour of photographic image take brings to mind the painter’s image and just how close Monet’s eye was to capturing ‘nature’. Photographic colour, even in masterfully printed large format images, is different from pigment colour and what one really sees in nature. Generally our eye, really our mind, fools us into thinking that they are all the same. That is because we are not most of the time really looking. There is a need to accept Shore’s photographic colour for what it is and enjoy, as in this image, its own unique beauty.
Another image in this exhibition that caught my eye was Tulips and Daisies. Here the photographer does use selective sharp focus to draw our eye to some bright red tulips within field softer focused daisies. The juxtaposition works remarkably well. Again there is the wonderful colour of a bright-lit day. I can understand the inspiration of these gardens on Monet painting and thoughts through Shore’s photographs. The images of both artists are moments frozen in time. Photography captures these moments in a fraction of a second while painting might take hours, days or even months to catalogue a single moment yet both in their finished products possess a remarkable stillness.
We live in a troubled time. Art can provide a respite that allows us a chance to marvel at beauty with all its benefits such as stopping to wonder at the perfection of a single flower. Who would not be charmed by the gardens of Giverny? Monet perfected the gardens and painted them some two hundred and fifty times. Shore, through his photographs, has given us another look at this same place using his own vision and another medium. The medium is not the message rather it is the artist who is the messenger who through art brings us something close to truth.
The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
1723 Hollis St. Halifax, NS
Tel.: 902 424 5280
January 28th – June 26th, 2011