Dan Bodner on painting with photographs

May 18th, 2006

“I walked into my new studio and this was the view, these water towers – which are typically New York. I thought, ‘yeah I should do that.'”

In early 2005 Dan Bodner changed the focus of his artwork from the human figure (painted from life or imagination) to cityscape. At the same time he began to use digital photography to study his subjects and his own work.

Bodner often makes photographs under conditions that would be difficult to paint from life, like the night scene above, or snow storms. He is in particular interested in the effects of city lights on the sky. From a large number of photos he selects a sample which he studies by making pencil drawings.

The drawings are not direct copies, but interpretations that combine elements from more than one photo. After he finds the composition, Bodner makes small oil sketches to study color. Then he makes a large painting based on all of these elements. In the end, some paintings are similar to the original photographs, others diverge substantially from the source images.

Photographs are not only Bodner’s subjects, but a way to study his own work. He has found that by making a photograph of a painting, he can see it as though looking for the first time. As Bodner explains, “By making the photographs daily, I can get a distance from the work as I’m painting it.”

Photography is associated with all aspects of Dan Bodner’s cityscape artwork, a connection which he finds appropriate. Bodner explains:

I want to use photography as a source for my work because we cannot separate how we see from the way photography has informed our vision. I think photography allows painting to be what it is today.

first part of this interview

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4 Responses to “Dan Bodner on painting with photographs”

  1. Art News Blog Says:

    Cool Karl, good job. I really like the paintings of Dan Bodner.

    Does everyone now agree that using photographs for paintings is ok?


  2. Jordan Says:


    I like what you said in Art News Blogs comment section. If you are lucky enough to compare the photo with the artists painting from the photo I imagine you get a great insight into the piece!

  3. Angela Ferreira Says:

    “Bodner often makes photographs under conditions that would be difficult to paint from life, like the night scene above, or snow storms.” Very interesting … I can see the point. I never thought of that. The dramatic atmosphere and darkness of Bodner paintings reminds me of the story of Jack the Ripper in the streets of London. I like it!

  4. bob p Says:

    These paintings by Bodner are excellent. In addition to being introduced to these works, I found the connection to photography very interesting.

    A couple of quotes from the interview with Dan especially caught my eye:

    ‘A photo is a record of a moment that has passed, a dead moment.’

    ‘To take things out of you and put them into the world, there is an absolute satisfaction in that. To do this from a photo emphasizes the act of creation, bringing life to something dead.’

    From those statements I conclude that Dan believes that a photo is not an end-all medium to his creative expression. He states that photos are dead – I wouldn’t take that as a compliment for the medium. And extending the thought: it is apparent that Dan is certainly capable of expressing creativity, however, the photo format for him is not filling that purpose or serving as his final creative outlet.

    In the sprit of full disclosure, of all the photo exhibits I have seen, in my opinion it is extremely rare to see a photograph that is a work of art. More commonly, photos are interesting captures of an instant in time.

    I look forward to the continuation of enjoying Dan’s paintings.