The London Magazine’s review of the Tate Britain exhibit “Painting with Light” opens with a quote from Evelyn Waugh:
There is a scene in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited in which the odious Boy Mulcaster interrogates Charles Ryder, painter and protagonist, as to why he paints pictures. Why, Mulcaster asks, doesn’t Charles simply go out and buy a camera? Charles replies: ‘a camera is a mechanical device which records a moment in time, but not what that moment means or the emotions that it evokes […] whereas, a painting, however imperfect it may be, is an expression of feeling, an expression of love: not just a copy of something.’ This juxtaposition might be said to persist today: we feel that paintings are fictive, imperfect impressions, whereas the camera documents, and never lies…One of the many triumphs of the exhibition ‘Painting With Light’ is that it clearly tells the story of the early negotiation of this relationship between photography, painting, truth, and deception. Early photographs, from the Victorian and Edwardian era, are set alongside contemporaneous paintings.
The exhibit at the Tate Britain on Millbank continues through 25th September. Robert Hawkins concludes his review with another allusion to Waugh’s novel:
This exhibition argues for a greater appreciation of an undervalued era of photography… Freed from their usual hanging alongside Old Master paintings, and set against contemporary photographs, the Pre-Raphaelite paintings seem more thoroughly modern than usual. And the photographs emerge not as subservient to paintings, but as wrought, intricately constructed, magical things. So Charles Ryder is proved wrong, and Mulcaster right: a photograph is not just a copy of something. In fact, this could hardly be further from the truth.