Written by One Kriviciute
From early cave paintings to today’s photos shared of everyday moments on social media, we, as human beings, want to perpetuate our daily lives visually, to capture the moment that tells a story about us. From cave paintings, monuments celebrating victory, portraits of nobles, religious stories painted in the brackets of shrines, to a body glorifying art, to photos capturing breakfast, a wonderful sunset, or a cute dog, we are used to capturing everything around us. So, when photography was born in the 19th century, we received a new opportunity to capture our daily lives.
When photography started, as the new visual art, soon the most important rules of classical art were applied to it. From the birth of photography till today, photography has consistently relied on the rules of classical art, the only difference is that in paintings and drawings, on blank canvas it’s made by the human hand, in photography the moment is captured through a lens, with the help of the camera. Classical art has handed over main elements to photography, to create it as visual art: composition, line, shape, form, texture, color, size, and depth.
Of course, the most important rule, as in any visual artwork – is composition. Composition is the arrangement of visual elements in a work of art, it is the interrelation and relationship with the whole. Composition is the thing we first see when we look at a work of art, we may not see what is depicted, but you can always see a composition that may catch your eye, from a distance apart.
Although the composition in art has been from the beginning, the strong view of the composition shined during the Renaissance. The greatest artists of the time, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, were focused on giving strength to the composition. Their masterpieces, now world-famous works of art, used many different compositions to catch the human eye. One of the main composition types, used throughout many different artworks is the golden spiral. The practicality of this type of composition is that it is easy to apply, both in landscape and portrait. The Golden Spiral is pleasing to the eye, as it creates a pleasing aesthetic through balance. Therefore, even in photography, this composition remained unforgettable and is used in many great photography masterpieces. The
Golden Spiral creates some type of balance that catches your attention to notice what you must see in the art piece.
Of course, the space of an artwork is not only created from composition, it also requires perspective, to feel the world on canvas. It was during the Renaissance that depth in art, a new vision of space, emerged in the works of art. In the past, the environments depicted in the paintings appeared to be flat, but perspective gave a more realistic world feel in paintings. You could feel the involvement in the painting, to feel the atmosphere of it. The same is with photography, you want to belong to the space you see in the picture, whether it is a room, a forest, or mountains. By looking at a photo you want to see more than just the image, you want to feel the space.
With a sense of space, there is also a play of shadows and light, which also creates the feeling of space. The bounce between light and shadow creates a new form of intensity. Used by Master Caravaggio himself, a play between color contrasts of light and dark creates a three-dimensional effect that leads to feeling the space depth in the painting, physically and as mentally. The importance of contrast is indescribable, especially in black and white photography, bouncing between the intensity of those highlights and the deepness of those shadows, creates an atmosphere, so it means that the smallest ray of sunlight can be the sharpest point of tension in the entire work. The whole contrast between light and dark is what adds the most richness to the artwork.
But photography took over not only the formal rules of visual art, the art of photography also absorbed images from paintings, themes, and various details, which created new movements in photography. From landscapes to portraits or even blurred photos, there is always something from the past, and photography is always turning into classical art. Like blurred photos, mostly they look like imperfect ones, but there is something more. The movement that creates confusion in the visual is “the beauty of speed”. The focus on speed creates a look at the unseen side of the world. A look to the unseen side of the world was what intrigued the artists of futurism, how to stop the unstoppable moment, how to look at it. Therefore Futurism as an art movement is very much related to photography, as they aim to stop speed, to do something inhuman.
Another art movement that also sought to stop the moment was impressionism. It’s an art movement where artists went out of their workshops into the real world. Impressionist artists tried to capture the charm of the moment. People, architecture, the change of nature, everyday life, and the flash of light, sought to capture the beauty of the world in front of their eyes, like Monet, who caught the change of passive beauty in different parts of the day, drawing the same image in different parts of the day. Thus photography had a major impact on the Impressionist perspective. The camera can capture what you see here and now. A split- second camera can easily capture fast-moving moments, photography is useful in trying to capture fast-changing images like nature, clouds, and sunlight.
Photography can capture other movements that take place around us, such as social changes. The portrayal of the real world, without embellishments, came from the Realism Art movement, which sought to represent the world as it is. The art movement of Realism focused on how life was socially, economically, politically, and culturally around at that time. All the focus goes on the human being. That uninterrupted state with humanity is especially felt through black and white photography. There is no color, only human beings are left. As early as the 19th century, photographers sought to document the lives we live in. Like the creators of the Realism Art movement, they sought to perpetuate reality, there was no room left for a beautified reality.
So there is no doubt that photography is constantly turning into classical art. Each art movement brings with it its own trait, inspiring other arts, so it was with art and photography, classical art became a teacher to photography. As photography was born in the 19th century, it immediately turned to classical art for understanding how it should work as a new way of visual art. The rules of visual art came from a variety of artistic periods, from paintings on caves to Futurism, each period brought something new, somehow complementing the visual arts in its own way.