“Now painting is dead!” This was apparently the reaction of Paul Delaroche, the famous nineteenth century painter, upon seeing one of the first photographs of his times. But of course, nothing of the sort happened and artists continued to flourish, alongside a growing market for photographs. Nevertheless, even today, some of the conservative artists continue to have a negative opinion when it comes to the use of photographs as illustrations; the implication being that use of a photograph is a short cut to a good illustration. Is this true or can we look at photography in a broader perspective as extending the boundaries of illustration?
Photography as art form
Many accomplished artists like Monet and Gauguin, not only accepted photography but also used it as a new technological device to further their creative vision. Maurice Sendak, creator of the classic ‘Where the wild things are’ experimented with photographs in children’s books with some success. For all these artists, photographs were not just mechanical reproductions; they were visual aids that could widen their artistic canvas with fresh possibilities.
There are practical and economic advantages to using photographs over illustrations when it comes to providing visuals for a narrative. A photograph allows for the subjects to be captured from unusual angles and experimented upon with regard to lighting; it also allows for insights into movements which is not always possible with sketches or illustrations. A photographer can also work in difficult landscapes or locations which are unsustainable for an artist. Apart from providing a different insight, photographs can be less expensive to produce since they are often quicker to produce and there is considerable saving with regard to props, models and resources.
Since the camera captures all that comes within its frame, photography is a very generous medium; it is a very efficient way to chronicle the world around us. Moreover, photographs not only capture the subject but also every detail of the background and the foreground without the restraint of the artist’s worldview. While some illustrators have labeled this trait as anarchic, the truth of the matter is that photographs also provide for greater ease when it comes to editing and reorganizing the images. In addition, the use of captions and commentary with photographs is a customary practice to provide context and guide the readers.
Today, while both photography and illustration have found their niche in the art circles, amalgamation of the two has given rise to a new art form – photo-illustration. While still in nascent stages, photo-illustration combines the best of both worlds and is definitely something to watch out for in future.