Photographs David Hockney
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While Hockney might be best known for his photo collages, in which he took multiple pictures of the same room or scene in order to create a composite, almost Cubist, perspective, he also produced a number of more traditional photographic prints.
Many of these were taken as records of trips, such as Sian 15-23, which shows two figures walking on a path by a shrine, as seen from behind a bamboo blind. Wuxi 35-9, Wuxi 45-7 and Wuxi 40-12, also dating to 1981, appear to have been taken on the same trip to China and we can see him picking out important details such as chairs, tables, ashtrays and plants that feature heavily in his prints and paintings.
Perhaps Hockney’s most famous photographic series, however, is Twenty Photographic Pictures which is mostly made up of sun bleached images of California, including three shots of a swimming pool, with a few notable exceptions. A portrait of the artist’s parents standing on their doorstep in Bradford offers a sharp contrast to the pastel tones of LA, Malibu and Santa Monica, while a perfectly composed image of the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris feels like a nod to Seurat and a reminder of how Hockney used his camera to test compositions for paintings and prints. The interior shots in the series showcase his ongoing fascination with the male nude while a picture of a desk set up with a still life of a lemon and the drawing of it beneath, or a photograph of a painting in his studio, gives us an insight into his practice.
Elsewhere Hockney uses photography to capture his beloved dachshunds, whom he painted and reproduced in print many times over the course of his career, providing an alternative to working from life with difficult models.
Hockney has long been fascinated with perspective and the camera obscura and while he originally snubbed photography at first he soon realised it offered a different way of seeing. Having previously said that “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.” Hockney turned to the camera in earnest in the early ’80s when a curator left a Polaroid behind at the artist’s house in LA. He soon began experimenting with it, creating grids of images which would become his infamous photo collages. The word photography originates from the ancient greek words for ‘drawing’ and ‘light’, which can be said to be two of Hockney’s main concerns throughout his oeuvre so it’s no surprise that the British painter eventually came round to this fascinating and dynamic medium, despite his early reservations. This turn in fact reflects much of Hockney’s printmaking career, where he has always openly embraced new techniques and styles in order to push the medium, and himself, to the limits because, as he puts it, “mediums can turn you on, they can excite you: they always let you do something in a different way”.
Why is the photographs series so important?
While Hockney’s photographs show a different side to his art practice they also reveal the key preoccupations at the heart of it, from colour and light to composition and perspective. Here we see the recurring subjects of his prints – portraits, interiors, pools, dogs and more – carefully captured in Kodak technicolour with all the intimacy and immediacy of a snapshot.
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