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photorealism also photo-realism

noun [uncountable]

a style of painting or drawing in which images look so real that they are hard to distinguish from photographs

photorealist also photo-realist

noun [countable]

an artist who works in the style of photorealism

photorealistic also photo-realistic
photorealist also photo-realist


'The drive toward photorealism has pushed technological advances that all games can now benefit from. But … games that strive for photorealism pay a price, both literally, in that they're expensive to make, and artistically, in the constraints that come with this choice.'

The Guardian 28th September 2012

'Artistically influenced by Photo-realists such as John Salt and Chuck Close he developed his own unique style, making him one of the leading photo-realistic 3D artists in the UK.'

Midweek Herald 24th September 2012

'Behind the photorealist facade of Ruari Murchison's suburban set, we find … a single mum living in a new-build residential street just beyond the London commuter belt.'

The Guardian 3rd October 2012

It's an experience many people will have had – standing in front of a particularly skilled painting and wondering at the genius of the artist, who has somehow managed to use brushstrokes to create an image so impressive that you feel the object or person has been photographed. But there's an approach to art which takes this concept to a whole new level, and which in this era of computer gaming and the constant quest for innovative, attention-grabbing graphics has latterly become a hot topic – it's called photorealism.

the terms photorealism and photorealistic have suddenly become much more visible because they've been applied in the hugely popular domain of computer gaming

Photorealism is a style of art in which images are made to look so real that for the untrained observer it's almost impossible to decide whether the picture is a photograph or a painting/drawing. On the model of other artistic genres (e.g. impressionist, expressionist, etc), artists who adopt this approach are referred to as photorealists and their works can be described as photorealistic or photorealist. In order to create a photorealistic piece of work, artists use cameras and photographs to gather visual information which then becomes the basis for the image, the goal being to emulate the photographic style through actual drawing or painting. In traditional photorealism, artists typically project a photographed image onto a canvas, and then use an airbrush to reproduce the effect of a photo printed on glossy paper. If you'd like to see some classic examples of photorealism, check out these amazing images by American photorealist Ralph Goings.

Though previously confined mainly to the vocabulary of art enthusiasts, the terms photorealism and photorealistic have suddenly become much more visible because they've been applied in the hugely popular domain of computer gaming. Over many decades now, each technical and graphical advance in the gaming world has been one small step towards what is in fact the true end goal for the majority of game designers – a real-time, 3D world that is truly indistinguishable from a real-world scene. Hence the use of adjectives photorealistic, and sometimes photoreal, to describe games with ever-more-enhanced graphics. Approaches to games design that buck this trend, favouring instead an 'artistic' style in which scenes deliberately look like paintings or drawings, are correspondingly described as non-photorealistic.

Background – photorealism

The term photorealism was coined by American author Louis K. Meisel in 1969. Also sometimes referred to as super-realism and hyper-realism, photorealism was an art movement which evolved in the 1970s from Pop art (an artistic genre from the 1960s which used familiar images like advertisements as its subjects). Photorealism was sometimes viewed as a counter response to the abstract and minimalist art movements associated with the same period. As photorealism gained momentum, the use of photographs was met with intense criticism, despite the fact that artists had been using visual devices to aid their work for many centuries.

As well as artists, sculptors have also been associated with photorealism and, rather than using photographs, cast their sculptures from live models in order to achieve a simulated reality.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 13th November 2012.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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