From Photographs to Paintings

By Tony Remington. Posted August 24, 2018.

I was recently one of the featured artists of the 2018 Pistahan held in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Gardens. My modest exhibit consisted of paintings from my photographs of the hastily established post-Manilatown senior centers. It was a roughly from a seven year period that immediately followed the International Hotel Evictions of August 4, 1977.

While exhibiting I was inspired and impressed by so many interested in Filipino History, Kultura, and San Francisco’s Manilatown history.

When talking with young artists, writers, and particularly photographers, I thought I might best serve with my modest informal knowledge of photographic and art history. As perhaps in this fast paced “real time’ availability of the digital image, one might give pause to history. Perhaps I have become a bit of a dinosaur considering my beginnings in 1970, during what I consider photography’s halcyon days.

As a long time photographer with 34 years of darkroom experience, and additional 14 years of exclusively digital photography (not including the simultaneous years of film and digital), I have recently taken to painting from my photographs. However, I still closely associate with roots of photographic purism and film, my beginnings.

Of course we know that painting from photographs evolved from the 16th century in Europe where writings and accounts suggested the camera obscura could be used as a drawing aid, and in later paintings by Vermeer and others in the 17th century and afterward. Also it has been suggested that such artists are cheats. A suggestion that is a bit puritanical to any serious photographer who paints.

With the birth of photography the Camera Obscura evolves through the 19th and early 20thcentury, As with the efforts of Steiglitz to the f-64 group, photography as art is debated. Of course, photography is art. Thus any serious photographer with darkroom understanding who paints from his photographs must carry over vision as a photographer, has the advantage as a painter who has taken the ideas of using camera obscura to exponent levels.

Thus for obvious reasons my initial paintings of post-Manilatown are simply another form of the photographic printing process and darkroom techniques, dodging burning, cropping, contrast and even curves apply. Though many use projected images, I’ve kept it simple by using grid transfer, common techniques of muralists. It is more dependent on drawing skill as opposed to tracing from a projected image. Thus, a possibility of expressionism, mistakes or deviations of character.

Though I had been drawing and painting previously, my formal transition to painting from my photographs was initiated in January 2017, when I was asked to exhibit at the Manilatown Heritage Foundation’s August 4th 50th Anniversary of the international Hotel Eviction. I initially thought of showing my photographs of post-Manilatown, photographs I had made from 1977 to 1985. But as I no longer had a darkroom, and lacked the funds to have my works printed for exhibition, I decided I could paint them. Thus, from January to July of 2017, I made 30 paintings on canvases of 20×20 inches and 16×20 inches. This was my initiation.

As I began monochromatic trying to emulate my black and white printing process, I soon deviated to color, drawing on my five semesters of painting and my particular interests in figurative expressionist painters.

When my show opened I was very gratified by comments by some who knew the Manongs, that they could feel their spirits in the space, that I finally had brought the Manongs of Manilatown home.

I appreciate the attention I’ve received, but I know there are many much more deserving artists and photographers of amazing skill and accomplishment. For me though this simple process is still very much a link to my ideas of purism, a simplicity I think that was Manilatown, my starting point.

Artist’s Bio:

I was born an American citizen in Manila on Many 11th, 1951. My father was a Bataan Death March survivor who had immigrated to San Francisco to work at Letterman Army Hospital in the Presidio. I grew up in the Haight/Ashbury. I began as a photographer in 1970, and became involved with ethnic studies at San Francisco State University in the early 70’s, which drew my attentions as a photographer. Though I’ve taken many classes in art and photography, I’m primarily self-taught. As a professional commercial photographer, I’ve worked as a portrait and wedding photographer, but primarily was a commercial digital product photographer for 15 years. During my extended time in the Philippines I was also hired for one season as the official photographer of the PBL. Throughout I’ve always maintain my personal work as a street and fine art photographer, and covering many events for their historical value. Since my exhibit as the featured artist at the Manilatown Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary of the International Hotel eviction in 2017, I’ve taken to painting more earnestly. Though technically retired, I’m often traveling to Asia to photograph, paint, and study. I’ve been practicing Taiji for 4 years with interests in Taoist thought, Tagalog and Mandarin.

For more of Tony’s artwork, visit:

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