Art photography – opportunities and limitations – A Self-Reflection

  • Art photography – opportunities and limitations – A Self-Reflection
  • Art photography – opportunities and limitations – A Self-Reflection
  • Art photography – opportunities and limitations – A Self-Reflection
  • Art photography – opportunities and limitations – A Self-Reflection

At today’s cross disciplinary hangout (, my topic raised how to photography best flat artwork, e.g. glossy paintings, was explained in a tutorial by photography tutor Clive in a comprehensive and technical way. His 101 tutorial, a comprehensive guide to overcome frustrating issues with ‘bad representation’ of paintings or drawings. It triggered discussions and my further reflection on what I want to achieve, to make a photographic images resemble the original work visually in front of me, or something else.

During POP1, I uploaded a few monochrome abstract paintings for peer feedback, and I was facing issues with how to get a digital image across to others so that they get a reasonable idea of how the physical painting actually looks like. Questions of tonal values, contrast, white as white or grey hue, and glossy surfaces appeared. In context of my current course I am facing technical questions of video and still images. A question that triggered already discussions with peers and tutors of whether to record and photograph me myself or hiring an assistant or professional photographer. What I should focus on where cross disciplinary work starts.

My recent longer break – off coursework, reconstructing studio and office spaces after my relocation, I have now the luxury to own two daylight studio lamps, a DSLR, a tripod, and a mirror – and space to make images of my work at the wall, in progress or finished. Hoping to get some more standardised, and quicker routine in taken images of my work.

Clive guided (his written guide available at: ) us through steps of post-edit (Photoshop), how to adjust values and how this is going to impact visual perception of the image.  

So why all the fuzz? Here some of my thoughts on pro and con:

PROs – Why Yes: 

  • to avoid communicating through ‘badly photographed’ images:
    – sending to my tutors, assessment team and peers when they will not be able to see them as physical work
    – and to make a good first impression (in other occasions where I would need to submit upfront digital images)
  • understanding what and how photographic reproductions are different from the physical object and how possibly to change aspect of attention
  • photographic reproductions can be part of a greater body of work (alongside physical paintings and video etc. – the quality of outcome need therefore to be high, as long ‘low images quality’ is not part of the concept)
  • I don’t want to get frustrated with necessities (and making digital images of my work is required of being a distant learner)

CONs – Why Not: 

  • I am not a professional photographer and time better to spend on making paintings instead of ‘wasting’ time to photograph them, let experts do the work (with my direction)
  • Photographic reproductions are different and possibly an art object in itself, but doesn’t fit into what I want to do and show to people.

The beauty of hangouts is that it is not a problem solving event, with different perspectives and ideas flowing together – and eventually into my brain and body. Topics of representation, reproduction, photographs as separate art objects, and LoFi (brought to the table by Alan) versus high tech equipment and execution made me ponder my purpose and rationale. Also the question how and where to focus and spend my time on (Jennifer: ‘life is too short’). Reminds me of a statement by the American painter Brice Marden in an interview in TURPS Banana issue #20) in discussion on commissioning and the exterior non-painting work related to it:

“I just find it takes up all my time trying to paint.”

Asking myself: What does take up my time? And what do I want taking up my time? My recent break, longer than initially thought, undergoing time consuming and at times less ‘productive’ activities (admin, office, registration; procrastination)


What is my focus?
=> How much time do I want to invest personally in photographing my art work versus making my art work? If I would make photographs of my paintings in order to print and circulate those as giclee or reproductions (an idea that actually crossed my mind, the business side of making art?), then I think I would sacrify my work on paintings (need to prioritization)
What is my intention?
=> A photographic reproduction should get my idea of the image across. Either as a good visual resemblance or as an edited version or appropriation to put the attention on different aspects.
=> One image (photographic reproduction) might not be sufficient in getting the essence across. Several images, close-up views and at times even with more context around (installation type) would be necessary. During the discussion we tackled only slightly the topic of ‘land art’ photography. And how large works (drawings) can even be a big challenge for professional photographers.
Is reproduction part of my work?
=> As documentation or as integral part of the body of work? Talking recently with Carline Wright on her art practice and that for her photographic reproduction as documentation is not part of her work. Actually, she uses it only a trailers to communicate future events with potential customers.
=> I do sense that the quality of the photographic reproduction need to be aligned with my intention. Fast and simple snapshots have a place alongside more ‘professionally’ taken photographs. A question of balancing it out, e.g. images for social media (IG, FB)
Overall, I do feel more comfortable with knowing some aspects of the trait, so that I do not spend more time as needed in the future on making photographic reproductions for digital communication. My ‘frustration’ can then be focused more on my paintings instead of technical issues with the camera. In that manner, I do see photographic reproduction as a tool, for communication or as a process tool for myself serving new ideas for drawings and paintings. With regards to material and equipment aka tools it led to the question raise by Alan on:


It opened topics around what LoFi actually means. I drew a comparison with painting, either to paint with a very limited palette (e.g. just one color) and explore all various perspectives of that material, versus huge boxes with a large selection of different colors (those that one can buy for gifting). For me restrictions in material, equipment etc. can be quite a relief – kind of emptying life from its burden and opening up experimenting in a curious way what can be done, more playful than dogged. This could lead to more embracing flaws and imperfections to experience something (a)new. 
A note on HiFi – Bruce Nauman and Hito Steyerl:
My recent visit to the large Bruce Nauman retrospective made me aware of how technology can support or limit my perception. A comparison of Nauman’s video work on ‘Contrapposto.’: 1968 and 2016 . Both video using the technology of that time, and both showing a setting of the artist’s studio, more or less unstaged. From our perspective today, the video of 1968 would be LoFi with a camera recording his movement with no obvious post-edit and on one single TV-set aka screen (he was 27 and two years after his MFA), and 2016 HiFi using state-of-the-art 4K and 3D technology with 120 frames/second (now, he could truly afford all fancy equipment, at the age of 75) showing all kind of details (one still image – Bruce Nauman, Contrapposto Studies I through VII, 2015/16; image credit Schaulager Basel, 2018) 
It also reminded me of the hi-tech exploration of drones, surveillance and digital composites technology Hito Steyerl is using in some her large scale multiple screens video works (example: Hito Steyerl (2015) The Tower , made in three channel high-definition video installation, environment and sound, 6:55 mins). 
Somehow, I feel more overwhelmed by the hi-tech technologies, perhaps they remind me too much of visual- overflow in media, advertisement and commercials. And perhaps, I do not trust them so much. However, these technologies are contemporary, the question which message does it communicate and which intention does it serve. Newest technologies might still have a sense of magic inside.
So, what if LoFi or not is not about tools and materials but more about an attitude? The route is full of rabbit holes one can fall into – and finding out that it takes up all the time. Same with research. Where is the right balance?  Is this a question of time and space work is made or a question of the audience and how it is received? More in the eyes of the viewer than the maker. One can ponder all day long about it – and not doing any physical (new) work.  Like trying to find the ‘true’ representation of a painting through photographic images. Time to unload…..


The images in this post are edited versions of an photographic image taken by me of a rather monochrome painting I did for POP1 – following Clive’s tutorial. And showing that there is not just one true image – or representation of the painting.

Amendment (13 Aug 2010):
Catherine informed me about an earlier instructional video by OCA photographer Mark Lomas at: . A good instructive 101. Key aspects from the video
  • Manual white balance
  • parallel planes of artwork and camera
  • 45 degree two light sources at camera level
  • avoid mixed light sources
  • avoid camera flash light 
  • even illuminance
  • usage of reflective shield or even white paper (as second light source) if one e.g. shoots in front of a window or single light source
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  • Aug 1,2018 at 1:24 PM

    Good reflections … I came away from it thinking I’ll go off and talk to local professional photographers. My father was a photographer and in earlier decades of my life there was all too much photography, which is why I know it’s not what I want to do with the time I’ve got left. I never expected it to be such a big issue, though.

    • Stefan
      Aug 1,2018 at 1:49 PM

      Valid point still. If you know good ones in your neighborhood, take it. Unfortunately, I don’t know any in mine. Still would need one for some professional images of me one day.

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