Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture

Twentieth and Arkansas case-study

This page compares works Bechtle made using the same source photograph in the Twentieth and Arkansas areaBy using the slider bar (underneath each image) to adjust the opacity of the layers, one can see how the artist transforms a single photograph through variations in medium, colour palette, tonal range and cropping.

The page also includes artworks superimposed on present-day photographs of the site. These juxtapositions provide additional visual context for the surrounding neighbourhood, and occasionally reveal instances (such as the roofline in the upper right of the Potrero Garage works) where the locale has either undergone architectural changes or has been altered in the photograph-to-painting process. Bechtle often makes minor edits and adjustments to his source photographs, excluding details he considers to be extraneous to the scene; in general, the artist's work has become less tightly tethered to his photographic source material over time. Describing his shooting process as somewhat 'random', Bechtle indicates that most formal decisions occur not while looking through the camera's viewfinder, but in the later steps of choosing a photograph and transcribing the image into paint. 'A certain amount of editing and decision making goes on constantly with painting, happening as you're progressing through the painting; intense scrutiny while you're painting is key to making it work.' This emphasis not only correlates with Bechtle's own sense of his status as a painter rather than a photographer, but also helps explain the snapshot-like informality of the photographic framing – a strategy that is purposefully intended to leave room for his painterly perspective. As the artist remarks, 'If the photograph is too good and can stand as a as a finished work of art by itself, there's no reason to make a painting from it.'

By including present-day photographs of the painting sites, this case-study also supplements Bechtle's process with another layer of imagery. Such investigations form their own sub-genre of art historical research; perhaps the most well-known use of this approach is Gail Levin's work on Edward Hopper. As Levin relates, this kind of site work helps the researcher to become familiar with the artist's territory and to understand the impetus for choosing certain locales. Re-photographing not only makes clear the selected perspective and changes to the site, but can also illuminate what kind of spatial experience the artist hopes to communicate to the viewer. Also of note in this category are artists' projects like Camilo José Vergara's Invincible Cities and Mark Klett's Rephotographic Survey Project; both Vergara's attention to long-term changes in the urban environment and Klett's investigation of seminal western landscape photographs are likewise conceptual inspirations for my own re-photographic work. 

This page has paths:

This page has tags:

This page references: