Not long ago I read an article where the author asked: "Why spend hours recreating in paint what a good camera can do in seconds? A camera, being a machine, is completely impersonal and totally objective. It hides the person behind the lens while bloodlessly recording the likeness of the person in front of the lens. In a sense, the artist has gone missing. Painting directly from life usually results in a painting exuding much more personality because the viewer encounters both the sitter and the artist. This confluence of two individuals makes a portrait from life unique and compelling."
I thought this held a lot of truth, though there are times when a camera can catch that split-second "thing" that you see only fleetingly from a sitter. It's not easy sitting for a portrait. The sitter has to remain still and silent (for the most part). I know that the thoughts are running through their head for you can see emotion changes on their face. Sometimes the camera can just freeze the particular emotion or story that the artist wants to express.
I spent the weekend in the city at The Art Students League painting from life along with about 30 others. It was a workshop with Everett Raymond Kinstler who is always entertaining and informative. It's so interesting to me to look at the works created in a setting like this. We're all looking at the same model although from different perspectives. I couldn't help thinking that nothing illustrates the uniqueness of the encounter between sitter and individual artist better than when you have one sitter and 15 artists in a room. Each and every one of the paintings was different in emotion and composition...(and not just because we were scattered around the room!) They were all different because each artist brought something different to the easel. Some paintings were large covering the full body....others were just head and shoulder studies, but all captured something different about our model Francesco.
The key for me is to be able to mentally capture that frozen moment of emotion that excited me in the first place and then artistically recreate it in paint without using a camera. (As you will notice...I'm not that good of a photographer! :O )
It's no wonder I enjoy painting from life.... I love a good challenge!