I’ve liked this explanation Gerhard Richter gave in 1972 to Rolf Schön about the relationship in his work between photography and painting for a long time, but it’s been particularly awesome lately:
RS: How do you stand in relation to illusion? Is imitating photographs a distancing device, or does it create the appearance of reality?
Illusion in the trompe-l’oeil sense is not one of my techniques, and the effect isn’t illusionistic. I’m not trying to imitate a photograph; I’m trying to make one. And if I disregard the assumption that a photograph is a piece of paper exposed to light, then I am practising photography by other means: I’m not producing paintings that remind you of a photograph but producing photographs. And, seen in this way, those of my paintings that have no photographic source (the abstracts, etc.) are also photographs.
How objective, in the documentary sense, is your photographic painting?
It isn’t. First of all, only photographs can be objective, because they relate to an object without themselves being objects. [hmm, well. -ed.] However, I can also see them as objects and even make them into objects–by painting them, for instance. From that point onwards they cannot be, and art not meant to be, objective any more–nor are they meant to document anything whatever, whether reality or a view of reality. They are the reality, the view, the object. They can only be documented.
Richter’s interview with Schoen was first published under the headline, “Unser Mann in Venedig [Our Man In Venice],” in Deutsche Zeitung, on April 14, 1972, exactly 40 years ago. It was included that summer in the catalogues for both the German Pavilion and the Venice Biennale.
It’s also included in both The Daily Practice of Painting and the reboot edition, Gerhard Richter: Writings 1961 – 2007 [pp. 59-60].