Realism versus pictorialism

Until I visited China, I thought the stereotypical Chinese style of landscape painting was completely fanciful. That first visit was an eye-opener in all kinds of ways, one of which was the realisation that the style was very much informed by how the landforms, light, vegetation and skies really looked. I tried to capture the feel of it, rather unsuccessfully because this was the very beginning of my interest in photography so I was barely technically competent with the camera, never mind having a clue about framing:

Shi Du Gorge

If you look at a rather better photo from the same area, you’ll get some sense of this. But not exactly, because there is still a world of difference between capturing the feel of a place, and narrow realism that directly represents how it looks.

Today, thanks to Photojojo’s delightful Twitter stream, I learned about a couple of photographers whose work bridges that gap. Long Chinsan and his student Don Hong-Oai composed their photos in the same way as traditional Chinese paintings and used some unconventional printing techniques, for a strikingly similar effect. Here’s one of my favourites from Don:

1Pine Peak Yellow Mountain

It’s well worth looking at more of Don Hong-Oai’s work. I should also mention, in fairness to his estate, that he appears to be represented by two galleries in the US, though as is often the case the professional galleries’ websites are terrible showcases for the art: A, B.

One of the things I’m working on most deliberately with my own photography, but finding extremely difficult, is fighting the urge to always try and capture everything realistically. These two photographers are great examples of how much more effectively a mood or atmosphere can be captured when not worrying about realism.

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