S. Heiner fine art photography
Untitled (Pigeon and Bottlehouse). 2004.
            Inkjet print, approx. 7"x10".
                     [Edition of 250.]

      A friend, looking through my collection of thirty or so 'keepers' at the time, pulled one out of the box and said, "Now you could put a frame around that one and hang it on the wall." Then, sensing he'd said the wrong thing, he continued," Oh...no, I mean they're all very nice. It's just that this one looks like a painting." Then, after a long pause, he sheepishly smiled. "...and this one too," he said, pointing to the first print in the box. "You could put a frame around this one too."
          Everyone admires a painterly-looking photograph. That's one reason so many photographers print on canvas, which is more forgiving in what it reveals of the often pictorially blemished 'real' world. Photo tours take you to places which offer optimal chances for getting a painterly photo: the stark land and seascapes of Iceland and Antarctica; the open, spare stage for the wildlife of the African savanna; the dense rain forest backgrounds of Costa Rica. Franz Lanting has a wonderful, super painterly-looking photograph of dead camel-thorn trees in Namibia, where, it turns out, you now can go on photo tours to try your luck at getting something similar (and good luck with that).
      The kind of paintings which painterly photos emulate are often idealized. The world as most of us have experienced it rarely looks like those kinds of paintings because, after all, they're paintings. So when we say that a photo looks like a painting, most often we're saying that it doesn't look as if it's depicting something real, ergo the initial surprise on seeing it for the first time: "That's a photo?! It looks like a painting." The surprise comes from looking at proof, photographic proof, that the world can be like we once thought it could be, storybook and magical. To borrow from William Carlos Williams, so much depends on a painterly photograph. Unless it's on canvas, in which case, it just depends....