Camera Obscura

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Officer and a laughing girl by Johannes Vermeer was the painting that started the controversy.  The American artist Joseph Pennell first raised the theory in 1891.  It was during the 1880’s that George Eastman of New York invented a photographic process accessible to the masses.  The slogan for the Kodak camera was “you push the button, we do the rest”.  Eliminating the need for glass plates, dangerous chemicals and home-brewed photographic emulsions and fixers opened the process to the world.

Pennell noticed that the paintings of Vermeer had a photographic quality.  They had the kind of proportions you saw in photographs.  The Officer is twice as large as the girl.

Now it is widely accepted, but still unproven, that Johannes Vermeer used a camera obscura, a primitive pinhole camera, to sketch out his interiors.  Many versions have been used over the years, the best probably being the camera lucida in many variants, which is still in use today.

When you compare an earlier work, with a tiled floor, like Christ Healing the Blind by El Greco (1570) you can see the foreground is almost linear.

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How different to the distance created by Vermeer in his interiors, such as the Lady playing a Virginal (or The music lesson).  El Greco tries to create depth by having his background recede, but the foreground is flat.

Vermeer’s interior is bounded by a wall of the room, but he creates great space and depth in the foreground.  this is further enhanced by the perspective given to the room by shadows from the natural light entering the windows.

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Johannes Veneer was born on this day, Oct 31st 1632.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Serving as a photographic counterpoint to classic impressionist masterpieces such as Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe by Manet and Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte by Seurat this photograph is entitled Sunday on the banks of the Marne.

Henri Cartier-Bresson captures two French couples lunching on the riverbank overlooking a boat and what looks like a fising pontoon.  Middle aged, overweight, eating well, drinking wine, unglamorous but oh so very French at the same time.

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To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.
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In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a Leitmotiv.
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Born August 22nd 1908 Cartier-Bresson was a pioneer of 35mm photographer and a master of candid and street photography.  He was heavily influenced by Surrealism and the idea of using the subconscious to dictate the flow of art.  His early forays into art were as a painter and he gradually moved towards photography.
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Cartier-Bresson struggled to find his métier until he saw the photograph of Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika by Martin Munkácsi and his eyes were opened.
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I suddenly understood that photography can fix eternity in a moment.
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Photography is not like painting Cartier-Bresson said in an interview in 1957. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative.  Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.

Through the lens of a master

Avedon

Born on this day in New York in 1923, Richard Avedon helped to set the standard for beauty in the Western World with his fashion shoots and his portraiture.  He grew up in a family where both his parents were involved in the fashion industry.  Avedon developed an interest in photography at an early age.

He believed photography captures the personality and soul of the individual.  It is his ability to project personality with his images that makes him so famous.

And it is not only the models, the politicians and the rockstars.  With his collection  “In the American West” he captured the spirit of those at the foot of the ladder in the USA of the 1980’s.  Faces tinged with sadness, despair, hopelessness.

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And sometimes he turned his camera onto the rich and famous and in their eyes he captured an image of the truth behind all the fame, the glitz and the glamour.  Those are the best.  They are like poems in the form of image capture.  Instead of a subject looking out at you from the page, showing off a dress or an image of something they wish to convey you are drawn into the photograph and you can see, deep down, the truth.

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