Realism. Camera obscura and manual artistry.
Even though hyperrealism exists in music, literature and even philosophy, its roots are in the field of visual arts. So let’s follow the story through the evolution of painted images.
Before visuals could be hyperreal, they just had to be… well, real enough.
Over the centuries, painters all over the world have been trying to make their masterpieces as accurate as possible. Think Caravaggio and the artists he inspired (and the chiaroscuro technique that allowed for stunning contrast and a never-before-seen juxtaposition of highlight and shadow).
Caravaggio, Saint Jerome Writing, circa 1605–06. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Obviously, it wasn’t easy to achieve that kind of precision without lengthy practice — and, sometimes, some help.
Artists as early as Leonardo da Vinci have known and used a device called ‘camera obscura’. If set up properly, it creates a projection of what you’re looking at onto a surface. So if you project it onto a canvas, you just have to have enough skill to copy.
Johannes Vermeer likely used one to produce more lifelike images as well — the whole thing is explained in a curious documentary called ‘Tim’s Vermeer’. Key takeaway? It’s pretty damn time-consuming.
Johannes Vermeer, Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman, 'The Music Lesson', circa 1662–65. Via Wikimedia Commons.
There had to be a way to capture an image faster.
New realism and the era of Kodak.
Introducing: ‘camera obscura 2.0’ — the photographic camera. The world of images has never been the same again.
Naturally, there was debate on whether photography had the right to be called art at all, then ‘death of the painting’ was declared. Blah. But painting never died. It’s just that the question now was: if photographic realism can be so easily achieved through photographs, what does that leave the art of painting to?
Oh yes. Welcome: impressionists. Emotions instead of precision. Art’s new chapter: something above just trying to capture a moment. Something above reality.