David Hockney's Foray into Photography

A complete set of David Hockney's photographs, which shows a variety of pool swims, nude men, and California landscapes.Twenty Photographic Pictures © (complete set) David Hockney 1973
Jasper Tordoff

Jasper Tordoff, Specialist[email protected]

Interested in buying or selling
David Hockney?

Browse artworks
David Hockney

David Hockney

631 works

Throughout his life-long artistic exploration, David Hockney has explored a wide variety of mediums. In the 1970s, he embarked on a fascinating journey into the realm of photography, momentarily departing from his renowned painting career. During Hockney's photographic era, he embraced and redefined the medium with his unique vision and innovative techniques. This was particularly true with the revolutionary Joiners series, which challenged traditional perspectives and merged painting with photography. Hockney's foray into photography broadened his artistic repertoire, but also impacted the landscape of contemporary art, blurring the lines between different forms of visual expression.

The Shift from Painting to Photography: A New Medium

By the time Hockney began actively exploring photography, he was already a widely renowned painter. This transition marked a significant shift in his artistic career, showcasing his versatility and willingness to explore new mediums. Hockney was experimenting with photography as early as 1964, when he would take polaroids as references for figure studies for his paintings. By 1970, he was confident enough to create a series of small, vibrant photographic prints focused on familiar themes, documenting his own life and experiences. Examples from that year include Poolside and Herrenhauser Park, Hannover, as well as At Rest from 1971. These photographs already show Hockney’s ability to create interesting compositions. However, despite his own large personal collection of photographs, at this time he remained unconvinced of the medium’s potential as an artistic device. He is quoted as saying: “Photography is all right if you don't mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralysed Cyclops–for a split second. But that’s not what it’s like to live in the world.”

He continued using the medium to document his personal life, including intimate moments with his loved ones, as evidenced in Peter Washing, Belgrade, September and My Parents. He also captured his surroundings, including The Pacific Ocean At Malibu and Hollywood Window, capturing the same mood of California that was such an inspiration for his paintings. Despite this, photographs appeared to be of secondary importance in his career, where representation was a central theme, rather than an assumed aspect. The next shift in his approach came in 1982, when he was challenged by Centre Pompidou curator Alain Sayag to mount a show of his photographs. Hockney then had a breakthrough about addressing the lack of perspective he felt so-restricted photography as a medium.

Exploring Hockney's Joiners: Photographic Techniques and Styles

While Hockney initially viewed photography as a mechanical process, less artistic than painting, his perspective shifted as he began to see the potential for creativity and expression within the medium. He became fascinated with the way photography could capture a moment in time yet also saw its limitations in conveying the experience of space and time as perceived by the human eye. In an attempt to overcome these, Hockney began experimenting with composite images: he would take multiple photographs of a single subject from different perspectives and at different times, then arrange these photos into a single collage-like image. This method allowed him to present a scene more dynamically, akin to how we actually perceive the world around us.

This experimentation led to the creation of what Hockney called 'Joiners.' These are large-scale photomontages that depict scenes with a cubist-like multiplicity of viewpoints. Unlike traditional photography, which is confined to a single perspective, the Joiners allowed Hockney to create an image that was more about exploring and representing space and time as experienced in reality. He demonstrated that photography could be as malleable and expressive as painting, challenging the boundaries between these two art forms.

The Pompidou show in 1982 opened in July, to rave reviews. The exhibition showed Hockney’s more personal photographs from the 1960s and 70s, alongside two dozen new Joiners he had created in the three months before the show. Critics praised Hockney’s artistic evolution in the medium and his originality – although the New York Times points out how other artists such as Joyce Neimanas and Robert Heinecken had explored similar techniques. Hockney’s originality is attributed to the connections he manages to make between the Joiners and his other works, including his drawings, etchings, lithographs, opera set designs and costumes. His work during this period played a crucial role, in his eyes, of elevating photography as a legitimate medium of fine art within his own career.

“I quickly discovered that I didn’t have to match things up at all. In fact, I couldn’t possibly match them, and it wasn’t necessary. The joiners were much closer to the way we actually look at things, closer to the truth of the experience.”
David Hockney

The Influence of Cubism on Hockney's Photographic Work

Hockney's Joiners exhibit a profound influence from Cubism, a revolutionary art movement that arose in the early 20th century. Cubism, pioneered by artists like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, broke away from the traditional perspective of art, emphasising a multidimensional viewpoint and challenging the conventions of representation.

Cubism's core principle of depicting subjects from multiple angles and perspectives resonated deeply with Hockney, who had previously felt photography fell short in this aspect. In his photographic work, Hockney embraced Cubism by assembling numerous photographs taken from different viewpoints into a single composite image. This technique allowed him to break free from the single, fixed perspective inherent in traditional photography, offering a more holistic, dynamic view of the subject – much like Cubists did in their paintings.

Cubist artists often fragmented their subjects into geometric shapes and then reassembled these shapes in abstract forms. Hockney applied a similar approach in his Joiners, fragmenting the visual narrative to create a new form of visual storytelling that conveyed a sense of time and space more akin to human experience and memory. Just as Cubism challenged viewers to reconsider their perception of reality, Hockney's photo collages do not offer a passive visual experience; instead, they require viewers to piece together the narrative, moving their eyes across the collage of images to comprehend the scene in its entirety. The element of time is incorporated into static artworks, as Hockney's photographs capture various moments and merge them into a single composition. This layering of time within a spatial context allows for a narrative to unfold, much like a Cubist painting that tells a story beyond the confines of a singular moment.

“The main point was that you read it differently. It wasn’t just a photograph. It was abstracted, stylised: the ideas were based on Cubism in the way that it filters down to an essence…”
David Hockney

Hockney's Impact on Contemporary Photography and Art

Hockney's transition to photography was not just a change in medium, but a groundbreaking exploration into the question of representation. Hockney's adoption of Cubist principles in his photography led to the creation of a new visual language, one that transcended the limitations of traditional photography and offered a richer, more complex representation of reality. His work represents a confluence of past artistic movements and contemporary experimentation, demonstrating how historical art concepts can be reinterpreted and revitalised through modern mediums.

Hockney's shift from painting to photography had a lasting impact on the art world. It encouraged other artists to experiment with the medium and to think about new ways of representing space, time and reality. His photographic works remain a testament to his innovative spirit and his ability to reimagine the possibilities of visual art – his work challenged preconceived notions about photography and painting, blurring the lines between these disciplines and paving the way for future artistic experimentation.

Buy and sell artworks