Photographer v. artist

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Sir,
As one who paints racing cars and aircraft as a hobby, I was pleased to see your comments on art in the March Motor Sport and agree wholeheartedly with your praise of Terence Cuneo.

But I feel you are quite wrong in claiming that the camera cannot lie except when deliberately faked. Most action motor racing pictures are taken with a long focus lens which produces shots almost totally devoid of any perspective and far removed from what the eye actually sees. Your centre picture on page 245 of the same issue is a good example, where the car at the back is as big as the nearest one. People accept such pictures as “correct” without thinking because they are taken by a camera, but they are nevertheless not true to life.

Even greater distortions can occur when close-ups are taken with a wide angle lens to include more of the subject, and it is quite easy, for example, to make a Mini’s bonnet look as long as an “E”-type’s! Yet many artists slavishly copy photographs of both types and presumably imagine that they faithfully portray what is really seen. The result is sadly distorted pictures which flout the basic laws of perspective without which few can look truly satisfying. Try looking at such a picture in a mirror and you will get quite a shock.

Wheel angles are a critical part of any racing car picture, and subtleties of camber and front wheel angle tell stories in themselves, yet how often do paintings suggest that something has broken! Not easy by any means to get exactly right, but vital nevertheless.

But surely the big attraction of a good painting is “atmosphere”, a quality which is alas all too elusive, particularly with mechanical subjects. Yet how much more opportunity has the artist than the photographer to achieve this—he can introduce a puddle in just the right place to reflect a racing number or allow a shadow’s edge to fall across complex bodywork to emphasise its shape. And is not an action scene in the pits with panels off and mechanics working furiously much more exciting than the same car drifting at 120 miles an hour through Woodcote? Yet put a wet track, spray, headlights and reflections in the latter and immediately you have atmosphere and an exciting picture which is always interesting to look at with plenty to keep discovering.

Two contemporary weeklies dealing with cars and aircraft occasionally illustrate articles with sketches by Gordon Horner, and although I would be the last to suggest a total removal of photographs, there is no doubt that his sketches are a lot more exciting than anything a camera could produce of the same subjects.

J.P. Hellings.
Harpenden, Herts.