Read about Photography Merging with Art Merging with Photography by Thomas Boldt.
Art is both incredibly forgiving and incredibly strict. When a new medium is invented and forges its way into the limelight, the so-called art world isn’t always at its most receptive. There are still those who believe that art reached its pinnacle with the European Old Masters, and that anything created since then is modernist garbage. Fortunately, this view is fading (read: dying out), but the art world still seems regularly torn between great exploratory leaps forward and clinging desperately to perceived perfection.
Few mediums have exemplified this struggle more than photography. Since the very early years of its development, there has been great debate over whether or not photographs should be considered art. Many early photographers were experimenting with the possibilities of the medium, eventually growing into a loosely-defined movement known as the Pictorialists, famous for their heavily-edited photographic compositions. Their original intent was to make photography fall closer into line with more traditional representational styles, to reject and address the claims that photography was nothing more than an exact record of a scene.
Interestingly, this drive has come full circle in recent years, thanks in large part to the now-ubiquitous digital cameras we carry around in almost every mobile device. This has, in turn, driven post-production editing tools such as Photoshop into both mainstream use and mainstream vernacular. Even non-photographers refer to photographic images being ‘Photoshopped’ to mean ‘edited’.
Yet the flexible nature of the modern photograph isn’t limited to intangible digital files. Artists such as Toronto’s Stev’nn Hall push the boundaries of photography back to an almost Pictorialist ideal, where mixed media hybrid compositions haunt the viewer with stunning light and depth, leaving you unsure at first whether you’re looking at a painted photograph or a photographed painting.
Hall is best known for his extensive series of landscapes, which take a photographic base and use that as a canvas for additional painted explorations in oil or acrylic. The pieces are usually then finished with a resin textural layer or additional impasto. The final effect is almost otherworldly, displaying a sense of depth and significance that is often at odds with the charming pastoral simplicity of the actual content in the scenes.
“I take many of my photographs from moving vehicles – sometimes a train, sometimes a car. It’s part of the re-creation of my childhood experience of traveling in the backseat, staring out the window, driving along the backroads, past the fields and skies and neighbor’s houses. I like the feeling of movement in the work as though it was happening, as if the still photograph was still in play.”
Despite having a large body of work in the landscape genre, that last line – “as though it was happening, as if the still photography was still in play” – seems to inform some of his portrait work as well. The series entitled Duel Identities, where each piece is named “____ against himself”, are not quite as successful from a media exploration standpoint, but are far more emotionally honest and raw. These pieces are of a much more challenging and complex nature, creating a dramatically juxtaposed body of work.
Regardless of where he chooses to go next, Hall is definitely an artist worth watching.