… the photo and camera provide a quality which cannot be obtained otherwise.
This is from Photo-Realism by Louis K. Meisel (1980; 1985):
… Even in the extremely liberal atmosphere of the sixties, it was still regarded as cheating or “against the rules” to paint from or use the photograph. This prejudice can be easily dispelled if one accepts the concept that the subject matter of a Photo-Realist painting is in fact a photograph. If it is acceptable to paint a picture of an object, it is also acceptable to paint a picture of a photograph.
[line break added] The Impressionists executed many of their paintings from drawings, using them as a means to gather information and work out ideas, composition, color, and form. The Photo-Realists accomplish the same thing with the camera rather than the drawing pad, not because they cannot draw, but because they would have to spend years trying to gather the necessary information.
[line break added] In many cases, it would be impossible to draw the image needed because of movement of either the artist or the object, changing light, and other factors. While another type of realist may make hundreds of drawings for a painting, Photo-Realists may take hundreds of photos. They can use the one that is just right, or they may combine more than one for a painting.
There are philosophical reasons for the use of the photograph as well. Many of the Photo-Realists claim that they want almost all the decisions to be made when they begin to paint. They can then concentrate on the technical problems of painting without spending time on composition, color, and imagery.
[line break added] An interesting side effect is that a Photo-Realist rarely, if ever, “loses” a painting. While an abstract painter may make fifty paintings and then discard and dispose of the forty that do not satisfy him, the Photo-Realist knows exactly what the completed painting will look like and continues to work at it until it attains that look.
Richard Estes, Telephone Booths, 1968
… Masking tape was a tool legitimized by the hard-edge painters in the sixties. Some said it was “against the rules” to use tape; the real artist would paint the straight line by hand. Not only would it take [unnecessary] time to paint by hand, but there is something desirable that happens to the edge of a taped and painted area, such as the buildup of paint imparting a raised appearance to primed canvas, or the slight feathering where the paint bleeds under the tape on an unprimed canvas. Tape thus provides a new quality.
[line break added] In a similar manner, the photo and camera provide a quality which cannot be obtained otherwise. The camera sees with one eye, not two. This is of utmost importance when one realizes how much a Photo-Realist painting looks like a photograph, even if not painted in a technique that aims to simulate a photograph exactly. … The camera also makes it possible to deal with focus in a way that is not possible otherwise …
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… With the notable exceptions of Goings, McLean, and Bechtle, none of the Photo-Realist artists had even heard of the others during the years when they were formulating their ideas and working toward the use of the camera and photograph in their work. And all of them arrived at their conclusions by different processes, even if they started with the same premises.
[line break added] The attempt to create parallels between the development of Estes, Flack, Close, and Bechtle — in my opinion, the leading exponents of what we call Photo-Realism — is impossible. To suggest that they had any influence on each other would be totally false. Each one of them gives different artists as earlier influences.
[line break added] Each developed independently, geographically as well as philosophically. With the advent of instantaneous coverage in the art press and with many more artists traveling to colleges and universities for lectures and Visiting Artist programs, it has become unnecessary for artists to congregate in one place to be in touch with what is happening in avant-garde art.
Flack graduated from Yale in 1951, a totally different Yale than the one Chuck Close graduated from in 1964. Bechtle developed his art in California, which is as far from New York in both distance and influence as is Paris. Estes grew up in Chicago and was more or less self-taught and, in a way, oblivious to almost all contemporary art. In 1970, these four appeared among others in the Whitney show and were thereafter continually shown, contrasted, and compared on common grounds.
What I am saying is that there is no such thing as a movement, in the old sense of the term, called Photo-Realism.
To be continued.