Constable Shoot 2

After a week of terrible weather in Essex I was beginning to think I wouldn’t be able to get my camera out at all. Thankfully in the morning of the last day I was there the sun came out briefly and I dashed over to Dedham.

Although it was sunny it was bitterly cold, very windy and a weekday so I knew there would be few, if any, walkers or tourists around for me to include in the photos to give a modern day feel to them so I treated my time at Flatford as another test for some panoramas.

I started by setting my tripod up in front of the Haywain scene. My mind really wasn’t on what I was doing and it took a few sweeps of my camera before I was able to focus and count the number of photos I was taking for each panorama. At one point I was completely distracted by a fat Robin who hopped out of the hedge I was standing in front of and started scrabbling around my feet and turning over the dirt I had moved when setting up my tripod.

I eventually tried a couple of different focal lengths and two lenses but this panorama of three rows of eight photographs is my preferred.

Constable Shoot 2-139-Pano-Edit

Back on the laptop I used Photoshop to merge a copy of Constable’s Haywain on top of my photograph and reduced the opacity so that some of the photograph is still visible beneath.

HayWain web

The painting image that I have used is very low resolution and cannot be used for printing but on a screen I think it gives a really good illustration of how the landscape has and hasn’t changed.

I moved on to the scene of Constable’s Boat Building. By now I was in full swing and only needed to try a couple of different focal lengths in order to get what I wanted. In the end, this one of three rows of nine photographs is the one I prefer although I haven’t quite approached it from the right angle. I don’t have a decent copy of Constable’s Boat Building but from the images I have seen in the books I think I need to stand about a foot or two to the left to get it perfectly right.

Constable Shoot 2-175-Pano-2-Edit

Finally I moved on to the scene of Constable’s Flatford Mill. Again I only needed to try a couple of versions before I was satisfied. This version has three rows of eight photographs.

Constable Shoot 2-240-Pano-Edit

As with The Haywain I used Photoshop to overlay a copy of the painting onto the photograph. I think the Stour changed route slightly when a new lock was installed in 1838, just over 60 years after Constable was born, and this is why the towpaths are going at such different angles.

Flatford Mill web

I chose to only take three of the scenes on this occasion, I wanted to know that I was getting these right before I moved on to take any more.

I think I will include a copy of the original painting overlayed on my photograph. I want it to be blended in well and a low 30% or 40% opacity so that viewers can see both the painting and the detail in the photograph below. I think this will give the painting context in the wider scene. Then if I keep the photograph black and white and the painting in colour, it should create a nice effect and add to the timeless nature of the countryside.

I have also decided to only use my digital camera for this project. I will ‘play’ further with the Rangefinder but I am pleased with the results of the digital panoramas and will stick with them.

I’ve included a gallery of all of the above images so that they can be viewed larger and in more detail.

 

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Stuart Parkin

Last week I met up for a chat with local landscape painter, Stuart Parkin.

I began by asking him to tell me how he got started as a painter and he explained that he had always had an interest in drawing. He remembers enjoying drawing at junior school and then when he went to secondary school his art teacher was one of those inspiring teachers that encouraged him to develop his natural talent.

He decided to go on to art school but was encouraged by his dad to think about a more reliable career and to do an apprenticeship first. Then if he still wanted to go to art school and things didn’t work out he would have something to fall back on. So Parkin began working at the steel works, which was then British Steel. Then life just kind of happened and he met his wife and started a family. It was when he turned 40 that he finally signed up for a degree course at Hull School of Design and Architecture as it was then.

Parting of the Day Pastel  SoldI asked why he found himself drawn towards landscapes and he told me that he has always had a love of the outdoors and for many years spent a few weeks each year in the Cairngorms. Parkin says he loves looking at the light in the countryside, the way it changes colour and the way it falls on the landscape. And you can certainly see this in his paintings which focus on shapes and colours in a scene.

Parkin said that an abstract style was a personal choice developed from an interest in mark-making (different ways that you make marks on a canvas). Coming from an engineering background Parkin’s early paintings were very detailed but his college tutor encouraged him to change styles, draw bigger and even use a charcoal attached to a stick to help loosen up. Although he has painted some 6′ x 4′ industrial landscapes he now tends to paint much more manageable 4′ x 3′ canvases.

Parkin’s influences include Turner, particularly his later work that focuses on light and atmosphere, Pierre Bonnard for the colours that he uses, the contemporary artist Hughie O’Donoghue, the expressionist works of John Virtue and Mark Rothko. We discussed the work of John Constable and Parkin explained that he prefers Constable’s paintings that focus on dark and moody seas and skies.

Day's End Pastel SoldParkin has recently been widowed and we talked about how that has affected his art. I imagined that painting would be a good way to express his feelings and help work through the grief but he appears to have lost some of his enthusiasm for painting. Once he gets started he tends to lose himself in what he is doing but right now, in these early days, he finds it difficult to get started.

We talked further about Parkin’s Christian faith and how that influences his paintings. He explained that it wouldn’t always be obvious to anyone looking at his artwork but that he usually tries to paint something meditative or reflective and that looks towards something better in a dark world. He likes to give his paintings a name that could be interpreted in different ways, e.g. ‘Towards Home’ is quite a comforting title for most but for a Christian it can indicate a view towards Heaven.  He likes to think that his paintings have hope in them and the vision for a better world. He says it gives him a unique perspective and allows him to see things differently when he is out.

Afterglow  Pastel   SoldParkin does sell a lot of his work, mostly through entering open competitions locally although he is also beginning to enter competitions in London. He has held exhibitions at local galleries including Abbey Walk Gallery, Grimsby, The Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, Studio Eleven, Hull, Rope Walk, Barton-upon-Humber, Caistor Arts and Heritage Centre and 20-21, Scunthorpe. Although he does have a website, he hasn’t updated it for a while and doesn’t engage with any social media. We had a bit of a chat about it and I offered to help him out if I could.

As we moved on and talked about my project Parkin suggested that I look at the work of Kurt Jackson who makes notes on his artwork to remind him of the atmosphere around him as he is painting. I quite like this idea, particularly after my Destroyed project last year, although I’m not sure that it is suitable for my FMP.

After the Rains Acrylic on board 27 x 24cmParkin also suggested that I overlay an image of the original painting over my photograph. I had thought about doing this before and had dismissed it but I’ll think about it again.

Finally I spoke about how one of my tutors had told me to loosen up and not crop my photos quite so tightly and Parkin advised that I look at the blank spaces. He said they are all shapes and I should compare and contrast how they sit alongside one another, that they can harmonise or build tension and where I crop an image will emphasise that tension or create harmony. I thought this was good advise and will try to consider this when I am next taking some photos.

The Lock, John Constable

This week a second copy of Constable’s The Lock goes up for auction. The first copy sold for £20m in 2012 and it is anticipated that this copy will be sold for even more. While researching this painting I came across this great little video that explains what is going on in the painting.

http://www.christies.com/features/gallery-talk-john-constable-the-lock-2594-3.aspx

What I have also discovered is that the lock itself has moved. The original lock broke and the canal was diverted with a new lock installed right next to the original. This, and that the painting was sketched from a boat in the middle of the pond is going to make recreating this painting a bit tricky.

 

Reproducing Tina (Green Dress) by JH Lynch

Tina, by JH Lynch is a familiar painting to many people who were around in the 1960s and 70s. If there was not one of these reproductions in your own home, then there was probably one in the home of someone you knew. Originally bought, complete with cream plastic frame, from Boots or Woolworths, copies can now be found in junk shops and car boot sales.

Tina, J H Lynch

Despite the fact that copies of his paintings sold in their thousands, very little is known about Joseph Henry Lynch. We do know that he was born in Britain, he died in 1989 and, frustrated with his lack of recognition he gave away, donated many of his paintings to charity or destroyed them before he passed away. Those that are left are apparently in the possession of his nephew.

Although he did paint some urban scenes and a portrait of Winston Churchill, many of Lynch’s paintings are of beautiful, sultry Spanish women in front of simple backdrops. Tina is probably the most familiar of his paintings but Tina (Green Dress) is much rarer and therefore more valuable. Interestingly the position of Tina’s head is almost identical in the two paintings suggesting that he painted one and used that as a basis for creating the other.

Tina (Green Dress), J H Lynch

It has been suggested that Lynch was inspired to create some of these paintings after seeing photographs of well known actresses like Jean Shrimpton, so I thought it would be fun to recreate one of Lynch’s paintings as a photograph. I initially considered Tina but when I couldn’t work out how I might get a tree trunk (or even a log) into the studio I thought again and chose Tina (Green Dress).

I arranged for a model to come to the studio and found a green gypsy top for her to wear. I also found a nice blue and yellow backdrop that I could use. To reduce the amount of work I needed to do in post production I arranged for her hair and make-up to be done.

lighting-diagram-1426355689I set the studio up using three lights, two to evenly light the background at f5.6 and one to the left of the image at a 45 degree angle to the model at f8. All of the lamps had softboxes on them to give a nice soft light.

The light in the painting is very soft so, after a few test shots with the flash, I chose not to use the flash and simply to use the modelling lights with a reflector to reflect some light back onto the model.

To ensure that I was slightly above the model so that she could look up to the camera I asked her to kneel on the floor before directing her into the position that I wanted.

I had my camera on a tripod set at f4.5, shutter speed of 1/10 sec, ISO 100 and a focal length of 35mm. It meant that the model had to be quite still but I liked the effect I was getting.

In post production I cropped the image from landscape to portrait and used the clone tool to disguise some skin blemishes. I increased the blue saturation and decreased the red saturation to cool down the skin tones. Then I used the adjustment brush to darken some areas across the chest. This is the final image.

Tina_Green_Dress_web

I am quite pleased with the final result, I think I have managed to reproduce the lighting and the general scene quite well but am disappointed that I haven’t positioned my model’s head at the correct angle. I think that if I did this again I would try to quickly view the image on a larger screen, that way I would be better able to see the picture that I was making and compare it to the original.

Here are the two images side by side.

Tina_Green_Dress_web

Tina (Green Dress), J H Lynch

Relationship Between Paintings and Portrait Photographs

In previous posts ‘Shape of Paintings and Photographs‘ and ‘Early Photographic Portraits‘ we looked at how the camera obscura helped some artists create accurate and realistic paintings. These are early examples of how paintings and photography related.

It wasn’t until 1839 when William Henry Fox Talbot and Louis-Jacque-Mande Daguerre invented ways to permanently fix an image that tensions formed between the two art forms.

Initially photographs were made to look like paintings, with the subject staged, usually in poses similar to painted portraits and sometimes even displayed in elaborate frames.

(Left) Théodore Chassériau, The Two Sisters, c. 1845, oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris. (Right) Anonymous, Portrait of Twin Sisters, c. 1848, coloured daguerreotype, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

The painted portrait though couldn’t compete against the low cost and speed of the photograph. Critics at the time suggested that it was the end for paintings. Paul Delaroche is reported to have said “From today painting is dead!” on seeing a Daguerretype for the first time. Certainly artists that had made their living by painting portraits were to find life much tougher.

Painters began to rebel against the realism of photography and in the 1870s and 80s tried to capture the essence or feelings of a moment in a movement that has been labelled impressionism. Named satirically by a critic after Claude Monet’s Impression, Soleil Levant.

Impression, soleil levant, Claude Monet, 1872

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries painters further distanced themselves from photography during what is known as the expressionist period. Here colour and form are exaggerated to explore the emotion and responses that objects and events arouse.

Edvard Munch, The Scream (1883)

Edvard Munch is among the most influential painters of this movement.

Munch tells of how his painting, The Scream, came to be: “I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature.”

From this quote you can understand how the painter has tried to capture not only the detail of that moment, but the emotion of it. In fact, I think that a photograph would struggle to recreate the same sense of panic and despair.

Similarly Fauvism, which came to prominence between about 1905 and 1908, used exaggerated or deliberately altered colours. Henri Matisse is perhaps the best well known artist of this period.

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907

Around 1907 Pablo Picasso began to do something that photographers hadn’t thought to do. He rejected the idea of a single viewpoint and instead dissected 3D objects and painted them from different viewpoints at the same time.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso is widely accepted as being influential in beginning the cubism movement. Three of the women in the painting have recognisable facial features but the other two have African masks on their faces highlighting another feature of cubism which drew on outside influences from around the world.

At the time, this was a very criticised painting but many of the painters that criticised it were later influenced by it and went on to firmly establish cubism in the art world.

It was not until the 1980s that David Hockey translated cubism into photography by creating a series of cubist style photo montages.

Mother Hockney, David Hockney
L.H.O.O.Q. by Marcel Duchamp (1919)

At a time when photography was becoming more accessible so did an artistic movement called Dada. It came about because artists in Europe were frustrated by the atrocities of the First World War and wanted to shock the public in to responding.

It was a form of art that was anarchic, absurd, irreverent and unpredictable. Even the name Dada came from a French poet that stuck a penknife into the pages of a dictionary in order to find a random word that could be used.

Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. is a classic example of Dada. A cheap copy of the Mona Lisa has been adorned with facial hair and the letters L.H.O.O.Q. which when read out in French and roughly translated means ‘there is fire below’. It is part of a collection of ‘Readymades’ where he challenged what art was by collecting ordinary, everyday items and displaying them as art. These pieces of art have since been photographed and the some of those photographs have become art in their own right.

[Jacqueline Goddard], 1930 Man Ray (American, 1890–1976) Gelatin silver print; 11 1/2 x 8 7/8 in. (29.2 x 22.5 cm)
Surrealism in the 1920s quickly followed Dada, this was based more on imagination and what might be revealed in dreams, chance, intoxication and madness. It was heavily influenced by Dada but was lighter and more humorous, drawing heavily on new philosophies from Freud and others.

Man Ray was a well know painter at the time but he was perhaps better known for his photography. Using techniques like double exposure, combination printing, montage, solarisation, rotation and distortion photographers were able to create a feeling of being somewhere between dream and reality.

In this photograph Man Ray has captured one of his favourite models Jacqueline Goddard and in the processing has turned white to black and created glowing shadows. He has also turned the image 90 degrees to give a slightly disorienting feel to it.

Clyfford Still, 1957-D No. 1, 1957, oil on canvas, 113 x 159 in

Abstract Expressionism was the next art movement, beginning in the 1940s and developing through the 1950s. Artists and photographers wanted to be taken seriously again. This period is noted for its large canvases and a celebration of the act of painting. It was the process of making art that was important and not necessarily the final outcome.

Jackson Pollock and Clifford Still are noted painters of this period.

Photographers tended to concentrate on the details of architecture and nature, focusing on patterns and shadows and taking inspiration from painters which, in turn, inspired some painters at the time.

Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol.

Moving into the 1950s and 60s, a fascination with fashion, celebrity and the manufacturing and media following WWII created the pop art culture. Like Dadaism it used everyday objects to poke fun at the established art world trying to blur the lines between high art and low culture. Artist Richard Hamilton described it as “popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business”.

Many artists in this era began work in the commercial sector. Andy Warhol began his career as a graphic designer before his screen prints of coke bottles, Campbells soup tins and celebrities became iconic.

Warhol used a variety of media in his work but using photography as a source (not just an influence) for his art was new and a bit shocking but it is a trend that continues today. When Francis Bacon’s studio was cleared after his death in 1992, several replicas of Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs were found. They were taken in the 1870s, yet Bacon used them as the basis for key main elements in his paintings.

L: Bacon’s “Two Figures” R: Muybridge reproductions found in Bacon’s studio.

Through the 1950s and 60s both painting and photography were no longer dominant art forms, they had to compete with the rise in television and film. Today they also have to compete with the Internet and social media. The proliferation of smart phones and tablets mean that everyone is a photographer.

Shape of Paintings and Photographs

Most paintings that we see have traditionally been square or rectangular in shape. I don’t think there is any definitive reason why this is so except that rectangles are an easy shape to work on and remind us of looking through a window in a rectangular wall. But perhaps it is also something to do with the fact that it is relatively easy to stretch a canvas in the two directions needed to cover a four sided frame. Stretching it in more directions can cause slack areas on the canvas making it uneven and unsuitable for painting on.

Doni Tondo, Michelangelo, circa 1507

In addition round, triangular and other polygon frames are expensive, tricky to make and difficult to keep stable. It is possible to frame a round canvas in a square frame but then it adds four additional triangular shapes to each corner of the image.

It has been done though and some well known painters have created famous works of art, often images of the Madonna, on round canvases. This painting is by Michelangelo from around 1507.

The lenses we use in photography are round and it makes sense that the image formed by these lenses is also round yet we still generally display photos square or as 2×3 rectangle.

Camera Obscura, Edinburgh

The camera obscura was the first way of creating photographic type images. Originally used thousands of years ago by astrologers to study the sun without hurting their eyes. By darkening a room so that it is completely dark except for a single tiny hole in one wall, light is bounced off the objects outside and projected on the wall opposite. It is upside down and back to front but is a perfect replica of the scene outside.

In around 1550 an Italian called Girolamo Cardano inserted a lens into the camera obscura’s pinhole. The lens needed focusing but it produced a much sharper and brighter image than had been possible before. Later, camera obscuras became seaside attractions and several are still open for the public to visit.

From the image above you can see that the reflected image is perfectly round. This gives a really good example of how images are formed in a camera. Light is reflected off whatever is in front of the camera, back through the lens(es) and onto the film/sensor inside.The lens bends the light so that it focuses perfectly on the film/sensor. Because light needs to bend further for it to reach the edges of the image it causes more distortion (aberrations) there than it does in the centre of the image. To get the best quality therefore the camera crops out the softer focused areas at the edges of the images.

There are also more practical reasons why I think photographs are rectangular. I think that square plates and slides were initially easier to produce, handle and store for early photographers and then when film was made on a roll, it made much more sense for the images it recorded to be rectangular rather than circular. I also think that simply having seen square and rectangular paintings that square and rectangular photographs were what people expected to see.