Spent some time in San Miguel this winter, away from the cold grey maritime winter. Photographer James Wilson gives annual workshops, and I had traded art for time at his residence; so I was there not as a student, but as an independent.
I found over a couple of weeks that I became interested in observing the nature of the photographer, and became more familiar with my little Canon EOS M. I guess the thing that separates photography from painting is the compressed window of time, and the adaptability of vantage point. As a painter, in San Miguel I found it difficult to find places I could set up even rudimentary watercolour equipment; the town is crowded and bustling, and discrete locations are rare. There are a couple of watercolours here, but the rest are photos.
One of the things that marks the veracity of the painted subject is the nature of the source. And that is the beauty of the camera. One can capture very fleeting moments, moments where it can be impractical or impossible to work with graphic or painting materials. Another point is the period of adjustment I have found necessary as a painter in order to begin to form a working relationship with new places.
An aspect of photography and painting that interests me is the internalization of the subject and its interpretation as image. I guess I had thought that painting, due to the long time spent in execution causes a maximum degree of internalization and interpretation due to it’s formal and technical nature. I had thought that the “capture” of a photographic image was an event which took place in an instant, perhaps serendipitously, and was complete. I do see that photographers are highly technically aware, hyper observant, and critical in the moment. And can spend much time “stalking” a subject. Whereas I, on the other hand, worked intuitively, and found things in my photographs only after having not looked at them for a while. Maybe that’s the same for drawing and painting. Generally I don’t have any degree of judgment until at least the following day. As a note- I recently sorted through 35 years of drawing studies that I hadn’t seen for years, and found some interesting results. That is the subject of my next blog, however.
One thing that is certain is the experience of colour to be found in different locations. In Mexico there is a vibrancy that is found in more southern, arid climates which permeates. I was having flashbacks to time spent in North Africa years ago. After the brilliance of high key chroma daylight colours comes the more muted shades of interiors; interiors and exteriors.
In terms of a certain need I have for anonymity and practical ease in making on location notes as a painter, after nearly two weeks I found a simple sketchbook and pencil to be the way to approach the candid image. Of course by this time my stay was nearly ended, but I learned a couple of things in my ongoing dialogue between photography and the fine arts. The photographer can capture the passing moment without creating much of a ripple. Armed with simple drawing tools I blended into the background, and as I began to record an architectural detail, perhaps, I started to notice the activity going on around. People coming from a church dooryard after an afternoon mass, or waiting at a bus stop. If I was to have stayed longer I would have worked toward sustained studio work based on motifs I was able to capture informally, in the street.