Discuss a photograph that takes an existing work of art as its starting point. Write a 500-word reflection on your chosen piece in your learning log.
Next, re-make an existing work of art using photography. This can be a simple re-staging – using photography – of an existing painting, drawing or print (see, for example, Sam Taylor-Wood’s Dutch still life-inspired Still Life video portrait at Link 4) or a more elaborate figurative tableau (like that of Hara).
Derek Galon – Tavern Scene
I first came across Derek Gallon some years ago when he received his FRPS from the Royal Photographic Society for his work creating photography in the style of the old dutch masters.
I was blown away by how much the images looked like oil paintings and it took me a long time to understand how he achieved that. When I first saw his work particularly the Tavern Scene, I was trying to understand what filters/textures he was using to achieve the feeling that they were painted in oil and yet when you look closely they are obviously photographs.
The answer to my questions was utterly unexpected. I had assumed that Derek was using lots of textures and blends in a similar way to Brooke Shaden, this was, however, not the case, the secret to Derek’s work was, in fact, lighting and layering.
To understand this, we first have to consider how painters like Adrjaen Brouwer conceived and painted pictures like this tavern scene.
The first point is the use of chiaroscuro, the technique of using strong contrasts between light and dark when a painter creates a painting of a group of people his brush controls where the light and the dark fall, he does not have to conform to science and paint the image exactly where the light is falling and can emphasise the effect on separate parts of the grouping. A photographer, on the other hand, captures an image and the light will fall where he points it. While it is possible to change the effect in post, the light and dark parts of the image will mostly stay the same.
What Derek was doing was splitting the image into its constituent parts and photographing each piece separately. In practice, this meant making each group of people a separate shot and individually lighting them against the scene then taking each part as a layer in photoshop and joining them together blending the edges and using compositing techniques to make the final single image.
I made that sound easy but there is a good reason that Derek was awarded his FRPS for this series of work, it was utter genius, He executed the composite perfectly to the point it is almost impossible to determine that it was done like this in the first place. The individual images were lit and shot to perfection and no attention to detail was excluded. He even shot a still life of some bread and cheese that sits on the side which he lit in the style of a Dutch painter.
I was finally put out of my misery when he did an interview explaining the fine details of how he produced this image. He planned the whole shoot down to the minute detail dressing everyone in the right period costumes, each group of people is telling a small micro-story of human interaction creating the rowdy vibe of a tavern as depicted in many of the works by Adrjaen Brouwer. He shot the spilling beer by pouring beer from a glass onto a shirt and shooting stills of the process. This was then added to the edit in photoshop to create the illusion of the man in the front tripping and spilling his beer, even the placement of the legs of the tripping man was carefully arranged to make it look like he is falling though, in reality, he is kneeling.
For me, this is a masterpiece in its own right and remains a standard to which I aspire.
Vermeer – Lady in the pearl earrings.
For the second part of this exercise, I have elected to recreate the work of Johannes Vermeer depicted above, there are two parts to this for me similar to the work by Derek Galon but on a smaller scale, first the lighting then the post-processing.
I will first attempt to recreate the light as painted by Vermeer in the studio then I will add painterly effects and try to use an overlaid texture to simulate the cracking of the oil.
The lighting setup is a variant of Rembrant lighting where the single light is positioned above and at an angle to the model and the camera, as she is not standing square to the camera the shadow from the nose is lager and is somewhere between loop and rembrant but with a high instance. I have included the blocker of flag to prevent the light from spilling onto the bacground and produce the deeper black
I use an application called Set-A-Light to model studio scenarios it produces shooting plans like the one above so that you can experiment with lighting before the shoot. Set-A-Light also renders an image as though you took it with the camera so that you can test the results, here is the output of the session posted above:
I set up the studio to shoot the image as planned in Set-A-Light and took some images of my friend Annukka using the lighting setup as designed and here are the results from the camera:
At this point, I could have stopped and called it a success, but, I wanted to add some more digital manipulation and layering to make it look more like the original so in this version, I added a painterly effect with the pallet knife artistic filter:
As the original Vermeer is an old oil painting, the surface has cracked in the usual way oil paintings do over time due to shrinkage in the paint layer. To mimic this effect a loaded a cracked paint texture brush and made a layer with a transparent background and black cracks over the surface:
I placed the texture over the image and set the blend mode to soft light and the opacity to 58% these settings gave the image a more natural feel and prevented the overlay from being too strong the final result looks pleasantly like an old cracked oil painting.
You may look at this and say its not the same pose and that she is not wearing the costume, which is all fair criticism however like Jeff Wall I felt that I had the ability to re-stage this in the modern world so that it becomes my interpretation or hommage to Vermeer rather than my copy of his work.