Not seduced

‘Seduced by art’ (until 20 January) is the National Gallery’s first foray into photography, and looks at how photography was inspired by traditional European painting. The exhibition resists the obvious side-by-side showing of a photograph and the painting that directly inspired it. But this would have been easier, and would probably have done a better job of maintaining the visitor’s interest.

Instead, in a more difficult exercise, it shows how:

> An artist can construct a story in a photograph rather than simply documenting (Jeff Wall vs. Delacroix), using the painter’s planned effects and careful composition (such as Gustave Le Gray’s picture composed like a painting from the Barbizon school).

> The concept of truthfulness of a photograph can be challenged: Rejlander creating a composite picture from 30 glass plate negatives, or myself when I stitch together a landscape picture by combining several individual shots!

> A photographer can use all the traditional painting themes: war, nudes, portraits, still-life. As such, individuals, couples and families are depicted in photographic portraits like in paintings, sometimes using paintings conventions.

Finally, the exhibition includes photographs which are pure imitations of paintings (Broadhead, Rejlander’s ‘Non Angeli sed Angli’), even photographs of paintings (by the genre expert Thomas Struth). A spectacular photography is Ori Gersht’s ‘Blow up’, which uses new technologies in a confrontation with Fantin Latour.

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