plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos


To paint from a photograph is inherently different than painting from life. Some artists avoid photos, others use them, perhaps covertly, for practical reasons. But to American artist Dan Bodner, painting from photos is not merely a technique, but a way to focus on his role as an artist. I interviewed Bodner recently at his studio in Amsterdam.

Question: When you work from photographs, do you ever ask yourself, what is the point of making the painting, when the image already exists in the photo?

Bodner: No. A photo is a record of a moment that has passed, a dead moment. I don’t feel that I own the image as a photograph until I paint it as a painting. The photo itself always refers to the past. But a painting of the photo is a creation, which goes on living. The painting defines its own continuing moment in time.

Question: Does painting go beyond the goal of simply making an image?

Bodner: What painting is for me is part of human desire. Every kid smears his food, or shit, and that is really connected to what painting is. A kid makes a mark and has the satisfaction of knowing “I made this and it will stay there.” For an adult I think it is connected to fear of death, which is innate. And it is connected to the desire to procreate. As you get older it gets existential, of course. To take things out of you and put them into the world, there is an absolute satisfaction in that. To do this from a photo emphasizes the act of creation, bringing life to something dead.

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In the next post, more about how Dan Bodner uses photos, his subjects and his methods