The Fundamental Concepts of Photorealism

Photorealism is often interchanged with hyperrealism and superrealism but it is a distinct artisitic genre and style of its own. It is actually the conceptual ancestor of both hyperrealism and superrealism. As an art form, it is fundamentally based on using high resolution photographs as basis for creating art works. The photographic images are rendered as paintings or drawings as realistically as possible or combined with other details to express certain ideas or concepts. One common method of creating such photorealistic arts is to project photographic images on canvass and use airbrush to replicate the images. Details are painstakingly rendered into another media in the process.

As an art style and genre, photorealism was developed into a collective movement of experimental artists during the 1970s. It came about during the same period and background as other art movements such as conceptual art, pop art and minimalism. As the name implies, it has strong emphasis on visual realism rather than idealism and abstraction of artistic ideas. The photorealist art movement thrived in the 1970s as influenced by the Marxist writer Walter Benjamin. In his treatise, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (published in 1936), he argued that art should be accessible to the general public. He said that it should be positioned within the sphere of mass media.

As influenced by Marxist ideas, many pioneers of photorealism had special interest in themes related to machinery and industrial objects. Some use subjects that are as mundane as gumball machines while others focused on transportation machines such as trucks and cars. These inanimate objects were often devoid of emotional or sentimental connections with the viewers. It was Audrey Flack, the only female practitioner of photorealism in the period, who started to incorporate emotional themes and ideas of the transience of life in her works.

Generally speaking, photorealism has the following characteristics:

1.) It complicates the idea of realism by merging the real with the unreal to some extent. The painted image on a canvass is distinctly recognized as something that exists in reality, it is still based on a photograph, which is just a representation of reality. The artwork that is produced is not based on direct observation of the real world but it is something that is already filtered through the camera lens. It is still distant from the real world in a factual and metaphorical sense.

2.) Photorealist artists mostly emphasize that their works are not forms of social commentaries. This distinguishes it from hyperrealism. The themes photorealism are generally focused on mass and consumer symbols such as cars, mechanical toys and fast food restaurants.

3.) Photorealist artists are dependent on high resolution photographs in accomplishing their works. Other more traditional artists would consider this as a form of cheating. The photorealist artists acknowledge the reality of modern-day mass production, which include photographs. Their techniques merge reality with artificiality.

4.) Light and the interaction of light with on surfaces are among the main concerns of photorealist artists. They use slide machines to project photographic images onto empty canvas. In this matter, they are able to unite color and light elements into one. As a result, reflective surfaces such as chrome metal on cars are accurately rendered.

5.) Photorealist artists like other practitioners of pop art have reintroduced the primacy of process and careful planning. They put little emphasis on improvisation in creating art. Draftsmanship and precise brushwork become the focus. They have given importance to the traditional techniques of academic art that emphasizes on skilled craftsmanship that value discipline rather than impulsive improvisations.