A brief history of photography (and painting)

Let us conceptualise in our minds two worlds: a big world and a small world. The small world lies engulfed in the big world. The big world is none other than the world we are embedded in at the moment. The small world, which lies buried deep within the big real world, is somewhat spherical in shape, just like the bigger real world, and is the human eye. Whatever occurs in the big real world is neatly reflected and mirrored in the small world, the human eye. These two worlds have very intimate ties that bond them together – every step, metaphorical or otherwise, that occurs in the big real world is instantaneously performed in the smaller world, the human eye. The big real world does not expand in size, hence the reason why the smaller world, the human eye, does not expand and pop out of its socket. But the big real world does grow and change, as it learns new ways of performing itself – and so the smaller world must necessarily keep step with these changes and learn how to perform within it these new presentations of the big real world. These two worlds were born together and they must remain inseparable companions throughout their existence. The big real world cannot in any way be conceptualised without the smaller world, the human eye. The small world, the human eye, has nothing to see should the big real world cease to be.

Let us go back in time, to that odious period we call the Baroque. We could go further back in time, or forward, but that is irrelevant – what is important is that we choose an age that happened before the advent of photography. Actually, we can forget the Baroque too – we already clearly stated that any age will do as long as it happens to have occurred before the advent of photography. For what visual arts existed prior to the advent of photography? Painting, only painting (yeah, and drawing and mosaic with pictures and bla bla bla). From painting (and drawing and mosaic with pictures and bla bla bla) we can extirpate the essential, the magic word: the pictorial!

But were Nicolas Poussin’s eyes horribly fucked? Did he really think that clouds and trees represented in such a manner in his paintings could in any way come to be perceived as resembling real clouds and trees (see image below of a painting by Poussin to judge for yourself)?

Poussin 1658. Landscape with Orion, or Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun. [painting]

And why do Perugino’s human figures (see we are indeed skipping across ages here) all look sullen and dour (see below to feel happily gloomy)?

Perugino 1493. Madonna and Child with St. Catherine and St. Rosa. [painting]

BUT… what if the world in those times really looked like that? What if people during the Baroque period did indeed perceive clouds in a manner that would now in the modern age be interpreted as cancerous tumours littering an otherwise neat, blue sky? And what if people living in the Renaissance period were indeed all nasty, depressed bitches?

Consciousness – as the big real world grew so did the small world within it: the human eye. That is to say that with the advent of photography we were unmasked and witnessed as having come to see things photographically. Thus, the birth of the other magic word: the photographic (which, let it be said, had already creeped in in certain painterly works of much earlier ages).

Paintings can be executed to flawlessly look like photographs. So what?


Pietro PERUGINO. 1493. Madonna and Child with St. Catherine and St. Rosa. Eterart [online]. Available at: https://eterart.com/art/0xd59d3630361882a7b87fe02fdc0478658451b22e/madonna-and-child-with-st-catherine-and-st-rosa-1493/ [accessed 22 January 2020].

Nicholas POUSSIN. 1658. Landscape with Orion, or Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun. The Eclectic Light Company [online]. Available at: https://eclecticlight.co/2015/12/28/trees-in-the-landscape-12-nicolas-poussin-and-his-leafy-oaks/ [accessed 22 January 2020].

Featured Image:

Iguana in Agadir. December 2018 at the Crocoparc, Agadir. Photograph by the author.