Photo-synthesis, in fact

Making a painting from a photograph is not a very artistic attitude at all. For one thing it’s contrary to the mythos of “artist-as-creator: An artist idealizes. An artist fictionalizes and adds his own interpretation to the “schema”. An artist changes, transforms, finds new formulas. He even rejects imitation in art. The artist needs to make “discoveries” for the sake of “newness”. At least that’s what theory says. The artist regards photograph as a vehicle, a form devoid of flavor or content. Thanks to his identification with the ultimate “idea” in a work of art he produces, the artist’s “aura” is captured in it. What is supposed to be on view is the Creative Artist, whereas in photography, looking is an act of passive viewing.

It’s believed that photography copies nature with an objectivity that is no longer subject to being interpreted. This is why authorities regard photos as documentary evidence. A photo is held equal to “reality”. The documentary nature of photography–its convincingness and truthfulness–are thought to be sufficient proof of any assertion. In the Information Age, the newsworthiness of a photographic image made its value accepted as a “document bearing information”. Information today has become much more visual than ever before in history. Tagged, classified, and archived, every image assumes its designated place in the collective memory as a datum of information.

With the support of technology, Nature can be conceived of with all the objectivity that a photographic image permits. In a digital environment, Nature can be reconstructed making that environment a virtual alternative to Nature itself: this “Cultivated Nature” has become a domain of artificial realities, an Artificial World in which the electronically fragmented bits of the light of every image are encoded and stored, again as visual information.

Does Art derive from Art or from Nature? The answer to that question may be sought by thinking of the Cultivated Nature that is the manufactured output of urban living: newspapers, TV, computers, signs, a host of things spewing forth light, a host of visual signals of information intended for advertising or promotion, objects carrying these signals–contemporary icons all.

Defined as an endless stream of tiny particles, each one of which spontaneously comes into existence and disappears, Time has mutated into a notion of despair with its sense of advancing into an unknown that is devoid of a future. Utopias have been everywhere overthrown. “One day at a time” has become the objective. Helplessness summons Judgment Day. Ideology hides behind the endlessly repeating particles of Time that preoccupy minds with fragmented images of life, mini-documentaries with newsworthy content, and images as convincing as photographs. Even the time in the course of the flow of day-to-day life in which a mind under such continuous assault can stop and ask what’s going on is threatened. “Free time activities” are designed according to every imaginable liking. It is here that an artistic personality best reveals its talents, offering the consumer new creations as a life-designer. In a “shop-till-you-drop” society, the stream of new models is inexhaustible. Artistic individuals have pretty much dedicated themselves to innovation. Every product comes with its own promotional headline. The slogan “taste and consume” has become the viewer’s ideal: Experience Heaven on Earth!

No news image deviates from the caption that interprets it. Every photo is an object forming a concealed surface between its viewer and the photographic image. Its authenticity is questionable of course. The photograph is a transparent “veil” between an image and its viewer. And when information is involved, that veil is as ideological as it is aesthetic. The same is true of our historiography.

Painting (or art) is not a way of verifying the universe: it is a mode of behavior whose concern is human beings.

Producing a painting from a photograph is fraught with problems that are different from the logic of “I came, I saw, I synced”. You can’t witness everything there is in life; neither can you claim to empathize with everything. Watching the news, the act of viewing a battle in progress from the comfort of your armchair torments your conscience. It’s a treacherous situation, one that disturbs the peace and quiet of the home. After a hard day’s work, the channel gets changed and you chance upon sparkling, feel-good images: beautiful young women, handsome men, whatever. Even if you don’t stop thinking about it, tomorrow’s lap of the rat race will make you forget it all. However the habit of peering behind life’s veil will remain. If you’ve ever had the thought “I just wish everything could be like it is in those magazines”, that means you’ve already begun to grasp life with a photocomic sense of reality. The materialistic allure of the trendy image has become entrenched in our minds. The materialized identities of the photographic image stem from the objectivity of the photo itself. Objectified, the images also close in on one another. Of course in real life you can change the channel by reaching for the remote. That guy on the news could be anywhere: right beside you even. This one might be a rapist. That one a purse snatcher. The other one a white-collar criminal. Even the streets start to be perceived in the objectivity of the news and once everything starts becoming objectified in this way, you’re done for. The epidemic of materialization has stricken every where and every thing.

It is a gaze from an alienated distance. Every painting made by looking at a photograph will also bear the imprint of the photographic veil, provided that it also bears some suggestion that there is a photograph in its origins. This also means that it will be fraught with a feeling of alienation as well. A feature of every news photo is that it conveys a warning about the perception of alienation. It is an triggering of a forgotten connectedness, a being reminded of alienation.

Painting from photos. This is “photo-synthesis”, in fact: Embodied in it is a reproachful reminder of laziness. It is an example of passivity that is unbecoming of an artist. It is despair.

To use a photo that was printed in a popular object of mass culture–published in a newspaper–is to repeat something that already exists. It is the forcible reuse of something that has already been consumed. As a matter of fact, newspapers are popular objects that we may see affixed to the panes of windows whose frames are being painted or used as packaging. Cheap consumer goods. The product of mass production, like many other things. It’s not just the most appealing things that are popular: the cheapest ones are too.

At the same time that it offers the individual a domain of freedoms, capitalism also creates an alienated and atomized society as well. While art theory may express a fondness for the “genius” archetype in art theory–genius possessed of an idiosyncratic madness and the personality of a unruly child yet nevertheless tolerated–that very tolerance domesticates the raging ego. Every work of art that once may have been avant-garde becomes domesticated and loses its shocking destructiveness once it gains acceptance. Cyclical theory predicts it. Even advertising takes the same principles of shock value and newness as its point of departure. When the theories and formulas of art take their place in academic knowledge–when their products become “museum quality”–the process of domesticating is over.

Any work that an artist creates based on the idea of “I” may easily become the counterpart of the internal knowledge of high culture or into a closed-circuit dialogue, or rather a monologue since there can be no dialogue. In a knowledgeable society, a person may sense that he is becoming objectified as an artist. Using an object with such indicative powers as a photograph–putting it back into production in other words–may unblock the monologue, make reference to something else, signify some other idea, and result in the emergence of an “open work”. Here the notion of completeness that is capable of reduction to a single idea may be broken as may the ideas of wholeness, oneness, and uniqueness. Rather than exalting a singular and central “I”, the multifocality of a work of art may imply seeing the “I” not as a goal of a multiformative identity and subject but rather as a condition within multiplicity. Technically the brushstrokes that are the vehicles of personal expression may be perceived as indicators of one thing or another. Creating a hand-made copy of something produced by technology is in keeping with the existing technological environment. Indeed the notion of repeating that which already exists–a form of conservatism–signals behavior that is not unoriginal. All that remains is whatever is left over from the orgy of consumption.

Every fiction is a sign of intelligence but any fiction may also be inspired by a skewed architecture. It may be abandoned for purposes of spatial illusion, formal language, or iconographic narrative. Expression is nourished not by thoughts dedicated to a single meaning but rather by dualisms such as irony. Photographic memory makes connections with cinematographic thought but also with comic books and cartoons. A multifocal linear perspective and sense of space dream of multicentralism in thought. And in meaning too.

Hakan Gursoytrak