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Friday, April 14, 2006

Bert Monroy's Photoshop Photorealism

Bert Monroy, Damen (from an original many times this size)

At first I thought this was simply a hoax, although on looking into it further I'm cautiously—if provisionally—coming to take it at face value. Bert Monroy, who calls himself a "digital photo-realist artist," says that the picture above, entitled Damen, is a digital "painting" made entirely in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. It's 3 ft. 4 in. wide and 10 feet long, he says, took 2,000 hours to create, and contains more than 50 separate Photoshop files with a grand total of 1,500 layers.

Now, as to the 1,500-layer question of why anyone would spend 2,000 hours doing something a camera can do in 1/250th of a second (okay, I suppose that's being too cute, but you know what I mean), I'm afraid I can't answer that.

Although it does bring up a tangential issue that I've been meaning to mull publicly some bright day: namely, the hidden or semi-hidden effect of demotic web viewing of photographs (or web pictures, in Bert Monroy's case). If this is on the level and not some slippery artsy folderol à la Sherrie Levine or Richard Prince, then I suppose my mistrusting reaction to it is because I think I've seen it but I haven't seen it. That is, I've seen the web page and the tiny little JPEG, which makes me think I've seen the artwork (you too?), but if I'd actually seen the artwork—the 10-foot long print—maybe my reaction would be completely changed.

I thought of this the other day when looking through the work of Tamas Dezso. Many photojournalists and purveyors of photojournalism are understandably reticent about providing large JPEGs online, since the pictures are expensive property that the owners would like to realize a return from. But what this means is that we're stuck squinting at little tiny pixelated representations of pictures that should really be viewed bigger. We're seeing a facsimile, but the facsimile-ness of the facsimile is something that's easy to miss, or at least gloss over. In the case of Damen, it's the same deal—perhaps just more obvious than usual.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON (thanks to Gordon McG.)


Anonymous Tyler Monson said...

Yes, Mr. Monroy is on the level, and the author of several books. I have a copy of his "Photoshop Studio" on the shelf not far from my Cartier-Bresson books. Rather surprised that you hadn't heard of him.

So why not just take a picture? Maybe for the same reason that painters paint; they are after more than just a record (with grain and diminishing resolution).

Oh, and I nominate for the ugly award any current 35mm SLR (or digital SLR) with a tumescent zoom lens...and the attached photographer.


8:01 PM  
Blogger Photo-essayist said...

Mike, with respect to "demotic web viewing of photographs," as you've termed it, I wonder how our understanding of the medium will change as we increasingly view low-rez representations. You referred to "pixelated" representations. Even if images on a monitor are not obviously pixelated, they are always low-rez, no matter how big the file, unless one views only a portion of a big image file with ones chair rolled WAY back from the screen. Nothing viewed on a monitor has the biting, crisp detail of--for example--the snapshots (big, fat contact prints) my Grandpa took with his box camera in the 1920's. So over time, I fear, we are getting used to "photographs" that lack one of the characteristic qualities of photography, i.e the capacity for exquisite detail.

Now, of course, big image files can be rendered as highly detailed prints. However, we refer less and less to prints as the definitive photographic expression, and we may stop expecting or thinking that terrific detail is a possibility.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Dave New said...

I was just reflecting today on the phenomenom of using one's Tivo (or similar media center device) to view family snapshots (or whatever) on the TV, rather than bothering to make prints.

It is rapidly taking the place of flipping through family albums of 4x6's (or even smaller, depending on the source film format), or dragging out the slide projector and screen (which I still have, including a B&H slide 'cube' projector -- remember those?).

I wonder where it will end up, at least for the family photographer.

I know that as the offical family photographer, that I can neatly divide my epochs into pre-digital (boxes of negs/prints, and slides), and post-digital (mostly images on the family file server, and precious few prints).

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Bob Graham said...

Mike, I can second that Bert Monroy is on the level. I met him in the late 80s - early 90s when we were both in NYC. I was working at a corporate communications company, and I hired him to teach our staff Photoshop. His skills were amazing even back then. And he was doing his photo-realistic artwork back then, as well.

If you look at the prints of one of his large works up close, the level of detail is stunning. That explains all those hours. It also gives us one answer to your "cute" question (why not just take a photograph).

I live in Chicago, not too far from the Damen CTA stop, and I can go shoot it on my DSLR, and have a nice looking print in an hour or two. And it will look great at 8x10 or 16x20 or some other reasonable size. But at 10 feet by 4 feet, it's going to look a bit soft, to say the least! I suspect Bert Monroy's "Damen" will still look great, even close up.

But more importantly, in the grand scheme of things, is that Monroy was one of the first artists to understand Photoshop as an artists' medium itself, not just a way to alter existing works, like photographs.

To me, that he chose to express himself through photorealism -- in Photoshop -- has a lovely ironic sort of humor to it.

But it's his amazing level of skill that's going to blow people away, and validate him as an artist, no matter what tool he uses to achieve it.

1:15 AM  
Blogger bjorke said...

If you like this sort of work, check out Damien Loeb, who does it with wet paint:

5:41 PM  

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