Why paint a copy of it? – Gerhard Richter

Excerpt below is from Gerhard Richter – The Daily Practice of Painting:

Interview with Dieter Hulmsmanns and Fridolin Reske, 1966:

“Mr. Richter; what attracts you so much about a photograph that
you paint a copy of it?

A photograph – unless the art photographers have ‘fashioned’ it – is simply the best picture that I can imagine. It is perfect; it does not change; it is absolute, and therefore autonomous and
unconditional. It has no style. The photograph is the only picture that can truly convey information even if it is technically faulty, and the object can barely be identified. A painting of a murder is of no interest whatever; but a photograph of a murder fascinates everyone. This is something that just has to be incorporated in to painting……”

So… what is the point at which a particular photograph may be
considered an “authentic” representation (trace) of a subject and worth
photographing ?

Consider author and audience relationships. Context for
display of a photograph – on paper ? on the web ? in the museum ? in
your family photo album ? Does the context of the display lend any particular credibility or worth to what is photographed – in other words – if the purpose to make the photograph is to display it in your family photo album, what kind of attention do you apply – what are you trying to show? What is it that is trying to be conveyed – what’s the purpose of trying to convey in the first place ? Questions to consider the next time you press the shutter button.


3 thoughts on “Why paint a copy of it? – Gerhard Richter

  1. Any substantially unmanipulated photograph has more ‘reality’ within it than a drawing or painting, people know that what they see existed, but by the same token any photograph is an interpretation of events, not a full record. The relationship between the photograph and the photograph is one of decisions, timing, composition, etc. All of these things can have a very real effect on an image, even though the aesthetics may be accurate to reality.

  2. miles: your comments resonnate with what I personally find interesting about Richter’s photo-paintings.

    Here’s an attempt to articulate the original post and the questions:

    In the “untouched” photograph there is an assumption that the thing in the image once existed and people (viewers) recognize this. IT is particular moment and circumstance. II is a “photo” of a “real thing” even with all the “effects” that may be employed by photographers to convey the intended effect (decisions on timing / lighting / composition…etc).

    Richter, I think, attempted to make the point that a painting of (from) a photograph can become more “real” than the photograph. Maybe simply because of the act of the artist rendering the photo – maybe due to technique (limits of painting detail / deliberate “blur” ?) maybe because of the medium itself (paint on canvas). Richter notes many times in his writings that the snapshot is already the “perfect painting”. But then, why does he continue to paint from the snapshot?

    For me, I think you touch on this by your comment about the photo being an interpretation of events and not a full record – It’s as if the “essence” or “full record” is conveyed more directly by painting it – because painting defies (questions) the original assumption that the subject is real or “once existed” in a particular moment or set of circumstances. So for me, Richter provides an example of painting potentially being more “real” or “authentic”…

    Then, on the otherhand, take the work of Thomas Demand (Thomas Demand – Photographer / Artist
    “Painterly Photographs of a Slyly Handmade Reality Published” March 4, 2005 – New York Times, By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN) currently at the MOMA

    At some level his work inverts the whole assumption about a photograph posessing more “reality” by trickery perhaps. He seems to take the belief about photography and subvert it to the point at which it takes on more “painterly” qualities – yet it is no more “real”. It’s as if the assumptions about moment and circumstance granted to the photograph are hollowed out of the photograph….I suppose this takes it closer to painting.

    So in my own work to “attempt to capture a moment when visibility ends and perception begins” both of these artists are good examples to consider….

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s