ILLUSTRATION VS PHOTOGRAPHY

Fabulous Noble

The two artforms and how they interact in the media and publishing world.

For a long time photography has been the king of the commercial and publishing world ruling over magazines and ad campaigns. But in the past few years illustration has been challenging this rule and we have finally seen its ascension to the throne.

There are many reasons why photography has been at the forefront of the commercial word – note that it has also followed a very similar course in the artworld – but primarily it’s because photographs communicate with the viewer in a direct manner. Photographs are “easy” to understand in visual terms as they are composed of elements found around us and more importantly they allow viewers to envision themselves in the photograph. The digital nature of contemporary photography has also helped to further this phenomenon as it has strengthened even more its immediacy to the public and has minimized the physical turnaround – who remembers dark rooms any more?

The overuse of photography for almost forty years has created the perfect backdrop for illustration to shine in its knightly armour. Editors and advertisers are looking for a new way to present their concepts and ideas in order to capture the attention of our over stimulated society; so going for illustration, which has not been as overexposed as photography, seems like a sensible and appropriate choice. The democratic nature of photography and its use by everyone – yes you instagram fanatics – has also meant that photography has become less “exceptional” and has allowed amateurs with everyday cameras that produce professional photos to populate the field. This open-access is one of the strengths of photography but it has allowed for illustration to wiggle its way into the mainstream since only creatives are involved thus giving the field a more unique feeling. And ofcourse like any proper kingdom the money always makes the big difference. Due to the general economic turmoil campaign budgets are rather reduced. Photographers need a lot: sets, stylists, make-up artists, props, models (and flight tickets if they are going somewhere far!), not to mention the cost of retouchers. While illustrators need simple a lot of inspiration and a computer or some art tools and a paper if they are old-school.

But why has illustration really seen a flux lately? If you go through most magazines from fashion ones like Vogue & Tatler to ones about digital technology like Wired you will see that they are full! of illustrations; go on we dare you to check. For magazines covering global news, like Monocle, the primary reason for the use of illustrations lies with their ability to be infographic. These illustrations visually display  through graphics any kind of information like the future development in Thailand or the labour division in the creative industries.  Another reason lies with illustration’s ability to relate abstract concepts and ideas, as it is not is not bound by reality. Illustration is used because it is creatively never ending, it doesn’t have to be at all related to reality, and it can break the rules of representation. It can illustrate the look of a fashion powerhouse in 2078, the concept of philosophy, or a talking dog on the moon for that matter; see for example Siggi Eggertsson’s illustration of gay pride. Siggi has meshed people and landscape, much like a kaleidoscope, and through his use of colour and form he highlights the dynamism of the gay community voice, as well as literally showing an abstracted view of a parade.

More so, illustration lends itself for the creation of striking editorial portraiture as it allows artists to go beyond the physical characteristics of the individual to capture the essence of their subjects and interpret their energy and beauty; from the graphic vividness of David Despau to Berto Martínez’ soft brushstrokes and ethereal beauty.

Lately we have seen the rise of yet another artform, photo-illustration, in response to the crazy scenarios of editorials and ad campaigns. This is a natural step in the arts, combining the advantages of two forms to create a new one that might be even more competitive. Photo-illustration is still in the exploratory stage and doesn’t have a very prominent role in the media world yet. Have a look at the exciting new work coming up from the likes of artists like Justin M. Maller, creative director of The Depthcore collective, and his haunting representation of a female nude.

Whether its photography, illustration, or photo-illustration commercial artworks break artistic boundaries every day. Illustration has managed to revive itself in the last few years by using new technologies and is definitely in its heyday; we are not expecting illustration to overthrow photography in the commercial world but it will definitely be first knight.

© Berto Martínez, Siggi Eggertsson, Justin M. Maller 

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