A friend recently put it to me that it was very hard to show paintings and photographs in close proximity to each other without it being to the detriment of both. I hadn’t really considered this before, but I could see the problem. Further, it seems to be a problem with those two specific media. Photos and sculpture, for example, don’t fight in the same way.
I’m not sure that I’ve got to the bottom of this yet, but my working hypothesis is that they are too alike, yet not so similar that they complement each other. By which I mean that you are very unlikely to walk up to a statue and think that you are looking at a photograph, but it is possible to confuse photos and paintings.
If I have been looking at paintings and turn to look at a photo, then the surface of the object seems dull and lifeless. I’m looking for texture that isn’t there. And in the other direction, if I look at a painting expecting it to be be a photo, then I can be disappointed by the lack of detail.
There is also a problem of scale. There are large photos and there are small paintings, but generally photos want to be smaller than paintings do. This means walking up to them more closely, and in a mixed display I’m not sure where to stand. Obviously, I resolve the problem picture by picture, but it is unsettling.
I don’t think the same confusions apply to drawings and photos. These are alike enough that the texture and scale differences are reduced and don’t grate.
I don’t think we were making this up.
Also posted in photostream.