The Impressionists were the first artists to be seen painting in public, the new development of oil paint in tubes made that possible. Although the Impressionists worked quickly watching them paint was never a spectator activity – like watching paint dry.
When Hans Namuth filmed Jackson Pollock painting in 1951 in a carefully staged sequence it ended badly. After the filming both Pollock and Namuth were drinking and then started fighting over who was a “phoney”. Was it phoney (inauthentic in someway) for Pollock to preform for the camera? Do photographs of art change the art, already altering our perception of the art before we see it?
In 1950, just a year before Namuth filmed Pollock, Belgian filmmaker Paul Haesaerts filmed Picasso’s painting on glass. Picasso was unconcerned about the camera and self-confident, he had many successful dealings with many photographers including David Dougalas Ducan, Edward Quinn and René Burri.
I was thinking about this as I watched Melbourne Street artists Conrad, Calm, Heesco, Sinnsykshit, Klara and others painting in a Fitzroy laneway off Leicester Street on Monday 3rd of December. It was an interesting afternoon; drivers found themselves in an unofficial pedestrian zone with shopping carts full of bags of paint, Phoenix using recycling bins as a studio table for cutting out paste-ups and cameras pointing everywhere. An approaching cyclists breaks to avoid getting in a shot before being waved through. For more photos of the event see StreetsmArt and Land of Sunshine.
“Here’s all the other side.” Dean Sunshine says as spots Lorraine, Jacob Oberman, David Russell, Alison Young and myself, the regular street art media crowd of photographers, bloggers and documentary filmmakers. All independents like myself (I don’t know why none of the local mainstream media don’t report on street art) except for a French TV crew from Canel+ there on the day. We are the other side, not as in opponents but the other side to artistic communications, the recorders, reporters and critics, and literally the other side of the laneway.
There were so many video cameras and still cameras recording the event on Monday that sometimes there were more many cameras than artists painting. There is usually someone photographing or videoing a street artist painting, cameras are ubiquitous now, but this time the number of cameras made me really think about them. I had to ask myself did the act of filming change the art?
Some of the cameras were doing time lapses of the artists at work, there were other people conducting interviews, the French TV crew were interviewing CDH and trying to get him to join in with Yarn Corner and yarn bomb a bicycle. Street art does present some different challenges for photographers. Due to its illegality street artists are reluctant to show their faces and the image of street artists seen from behind bending over to paint in low-slung jeans is not attractive one. The yarn bombers don’t face problems with the law and are happy to show their faces.
Of course, all these cameras was going to have some effect on the art just as not watching or recording the artist at work is going to have some effect. But did the cameras make the painting inauthentic and phoney in someway or has the perception and our awareness of the media changed since the 1950s?
Street art needs the cameras to record the image to combat the political spin. After Canel+ broadcasts the piece CDH plans to contact Tourism Victoria, the State Government and municipal councils to say: “We just made a 10 min ad for Melbourne viewed by several million French people. Where’s the support?”
P.S. The video of the French TV crew can be seen on YouTube.