Part 1 - Research

Mary Ellen Mark - Twins

The photography section of my children's school library has quite a surprising good collection of photo books! When I stumbled upon Mary Ellen Mark's Twins (2003), it immediately caught my attention. I have an identical twin sister and am a mother of identical twins and I was very interested to see in which way Mark was going to portray the unique bond that I'm experiencing myself and see in my own girls. 

The book consists of images of sets of twins that were taken on a twins' festival 'Twins Days' in Twinsburg, Ohio. The photos were taken on a Polaroid 20 by 24 camera and are supposed to be of exquisite quality. Mark flew in a crew of 20 people and set up a tent during the festival to take the images. Quite a production, I'd say! In the second part of the book you can read snippets of interviews that Mark had with the twins and their caretakers after the photos were taken. 

The front page announces that 'In Twins, Mark turns her acute eye and her heart to the extraordinary bond that exists between these very special siblings.' I think it is this sentence that annoys me most about the book. The images are all very stereotypical, not only of what you expect of twins, but also of teenagers, women, kids, Afro Americans, overweight kids, etc. I don't think Mark put the twins these costumes on, but the fact that she chose to photograph her subject matter in Twinsburg, on Twinsday, already shows that her approach was to get all the stereotypes on paper. 

Most twins have tautological names, like Kelsie and Kiara, Jim and Jeff, Melanie and Michelle and Kayley and Kaitlyn. In the interviews we can read that most of the twins either live very close together or live in the same house. The questions in the interview are closed and Mark asks all the stereotypical questions I have been asked about being a twin. It's just all very stereotypical.

I found it all very unsettling and I wondered why. I mean it's not the classification in itself, or showing the weird side of people that makes me feel like this. I really like the way August Sander made classifications of people and their profession, or Arbus' approach in showing people's rarities. But in this case, I get the idea that Mark's approach to twins is very shallow and even though she says she is looking for the special bond they have, she just wants to freak her viewers a bit with the fact that twins are a bit freaky. 

I miss respect for the individual and it sort of triggers a frustration that I have felt all my life about being compared all the time, the assumptions that my life was sort of dependent on the other and the struggle to find myself. I have to say everything is fine now and I love being a twin, but when I look at my own daughters, I would never want them to be portrayed like Mark does. It's denigrating and lacks respect. Or maybe from a less frustrated response, it's very shallow.

Mark, M. E. (2003) Twins. First Edition edn. New York: Aperture Foundation.


Chapter 3 Train Your Gaze - At the margins: The edges of the frame

I've been reading 'Train Your Gaze', by Roswell Angier. I find it a great read and it is giving me an other layer of meaning to photographer and my own attitude when I'm taking photos, the decisions I make of what I'm going to photograph and in what sense my own disposition and preconceived ideas play part in the end results of an image. The assignments in the back of every chapter are very challenging and I am thinking of picking a few and adding them to my blog. Looking at an image, then thinking about it and furthermore, trying to produce something in the same context or thought is very helpful and really deepens my photography skills and vision.

In chapter 3 'At the Margins: The edges of the frame', Angier discusses the intentions and seemingly relationship of the photographer and its subjects and the questions about truth and integrity that arise from that. He comes up with examples of Riis, Lange and Evans, who all went out to photograph a certain group of underprivileged people and portray their situation. Reading this question made me realize that documentary photographs give the assumption that the one taking the image has sort of stepped over in the world he is photographing, has become an expert in what he sees and that somehow the fact that he knows how to materialize his vision, gives him a better understanding of what he is seeing, or gives him more authority to show expertise about the subject through what he shows. 

Of course, one might already see through the work whether a photographer has a deeper understanding of a subject, or has been photographing something for a long time, but, also referring to the earlier part of the chapter, when one speaks about a decisive moment, a photographer may just have the visual skills and a little bit of interest to make a compelling image without knowing anything about the subject. (I find the example of Lange's Migrant Mother, napalm, California, 1936) very striking.

But then, is there something wrong with that? Thinking about myself, when I go out and about to photograph a place I don't know, I'm most of all driven by my curiosity. When taking images of people, I always try to have a conversation with them and have some kind of rapport, but I realize even more that these small moments don't give me a revelation of how somebody might be. Maybe just a slight little bit in that moment of time.

The chapter continues with the discussion of 'crisis photography', in which photographers come very close and capture tragedy to the core and the approach photographers like Guy Tillim and Leif Claesson, who try to establish a discernible frame of reference and through that avoid melodrama and portraying its subjects as victims.

I still don't know where I stand in this discussion. Regarding ideas and opinions, I find myself more connected to the philosophy of Guy Tillim, on the other hand, I find that my curiosity sometimes gets me to take images that could be called voyeuristic or unethical. 

This may sound really awful, but after having lived in developing countries for so long, I feel that I am not shocked by poverty at first sight anymore. If I were to take photos of poor, or underprivileged people, I would automatically want to go deeper than their outward misery. I want to know who they are, what brings them where they are and look for common things that make us humans. Because of that, maybe a person who has not had the life I'm living will look differently at my pictures, in a voyeuristic way, while I myself might have taken them in a completely different context. Or maybe my images will look different at all, mainly because I'm not interested in photographing misery in itself.

I don't know if that sounds harsh or not, I do know that I am much more hardened from the things I see, but on the other hand I feel that this hardening has helped me to look beyond the surface of poverty and maybe for a photographer, this is a good thing.


Final image for assignment 1: posed or unposed

After watching Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light, I have been thinking quite a bit about how to instruct the subject to get the kind of look, or reflection of personality in your image. Richard Avedon mentioned that he could play a trick with his subjects, in some cases by talking about matters of which he knew that would touch them, by keeping everything silent and bring the subject in a state of self awareness that would bring out the personality, or the expression that Avedon was looking for. 

However, in the contact sheets shown in the movie one could see that within one sitting there had been a huge variety of expressions in the images and that it the way the subject is portrayed solely depends on the artist's choice. I guess that in commercial work this decision is made by other parties as well, or the subject decides which photo is going to be developed or post processed.

Of course the quality of the final images start with having a photo shoot in which there is a good rapport between the photographer and subject, where the photographer is able to get the true unposed version of the subject. But having had a look at Avedon's workflow, I realize the power there is in the selection process of the images. It is important to have thought about what emotion or characteristic on wants to portray and be aware of the effects of a specific choice. 

I wanted to add a final image to my series of portraits for assignment 1 and I decided to do an image in the style that Avedon used for his own personal art. So no props, simple lighting and a white background. During the shoot I tried to do 'the trick', so I talked about my friends' mother of which I know that she is terminally ill. It felt a bit unnatural, to be honest. We always have a lot to talk about and I found it also hard to steer the conversation in the quiet, contemplative mood that Avedon had when taking his portraits. Maybe I should try it again with a person that I don't know that well. 

Still, looking at the contact sheets, there are a lot of different expressions to be seen. It really all depends on the one hundredth of a second when the shutter closes. I do so a difference between images in which the subject is posing (in a very nice way) and when you see genuine expressions. 

Other issues I grappled with are how much depth of field should be used, how much the features of the face should be shown and most of all, how to transform the image in black and white, use a lot of contrast, or not, darken the eyes, or lips, etc. I'll look for more instructions on that online, or otherwise read more books about it. I wish I knew how to work in a darkroom, I realize that I miss the eye for dodging and burning, etc.

I'm still doubting between the final three images. The first two are a bit posed, but I like the engaging and sympathetic look. The final image shows more of an inner pain, or is it boredom? Still need to think about it...

A few days later I have made the decision. The final image is the on in which the subject looks most straight into the camera. In this image the eyes are most visible and it is a headshot, which I wanted for the final image. I think this image complements most with the set that I'm submitting for the assignment.


Assignment 1: Going from Van Gogh to Monet to nowhere, but still a portrait!

Thinking about painters I thought I'd like to take a photograph in an impressionistic style. Without doing a lot of research beforehand, which seems to be the case in a lot of photo shoots I do (I need to change this!) I just thought of a few famous paintings of Monet and Van Gogh and decided to take an image in a colourful blurry background. I had done a photo shoot with a family and this image sort of reminded me of the self portrait of Van Gogh and that's how I got the idea to do photographs in the style of specific painters in the first place:

Portrait that reminded me of Van Gogh-.jpg

Why does it remind me of a self portrait of Van Gogh? Mainly the colour palet and the blurry grass that looks a bit like paint strokes. Does it look like a painting of Van Gogh? When I got home and googled his paintings I came to the conclusion: Not at all.

Anyway, when looking at places to take the photo for Assignment one, i looked for a background that was colourful, kind of even and with a not too obvious pattern. I wanted the image to have the same kind of look of the painting of the waterlilies in the pond and thought this would be a nice spot. 

I started taking photos. It was an overcast day and the corner was right next to a big white wall. Besides that, I used a white reflector to get as much diffused light on my subject's face as possible. I tried different poses, close ups and apertures. At a certain point she let her hair down. 

This shoot was not well prepared in a way that I had not envisioned well enough what I wanted the photo to look like, I had not done enough studies to know what a painting of Monet looks like (maybe because I had started out wanting to do Van Gogh style), I had not thought about poses or props. I just got there, looked at the situation and made the best of it. 

After having done the photo shoot, I chose two that I liked most and started retouching them. This is the first one I did. I got a bit carried away with getting rid of the wrinkles:


The image has a very dreamy look, I like the blues and the greens, but it looks somewhat over processed. I wanted to get a bit more subtle image, with more distance between the viewer and the subject. So I chose this one:

Adrienne monet-.jpg

I have desaturated the image somewhat, softened the skin and brought some contrast and sharpness to the eyes. Does it even remind you of Monet? Maybe only of the colour palet used in one specific painting.

After finishing the image, I thought I'd google some images of Monet and see which one comes closest to this. I looked at a lot of his paintings, read some articles on his studies of light, how revolutionary he was in the art scene in his time, how photographs influenced his work and the other way around, etc, etc. I have learnt so much more about Monet and impressionism than I knew. I realise now that if I wanted to take an image in a Monet style, I should bring an umbrella and a small child in the image as well, I should let the sun light play on the subject, I should try to get rim light, more colours and create a scene that feels warm and reflects the calm country life. Coming up: Blog about Monet!

So what I have learnt most by this experience is that first of all, I base a lot of my ideas on very basic knowledge of art and photography. I think of an image that I like, or look one up on the internet, pick up a few elements and try to copy that. It's not proper preparation. It's not really studying the ideas behind the work, or the work process the artist has gone through to produce the art.

I'm a very impatient learner. Now I discover that I want to do my work too fast, skip a few steps that are so important to really develop myself as an artist. So I'll put the brake on wanting to do things fast, spend more time reading, looking at other people's work, studying, practicing and not even think of where I want to end, but completely focus on the learning process itself. 

I am happy with the final image though...

Richard Avedon 'Darkness and Light'

In my search to learn about famous portrait photographers I stumbled upon the documentary 'Darkness and Light', about the photographer Richard Avedon. I hadn't really looked at his work before, but knew that he's an icon in photography world. I always find it surprising to see images. that I have seen a couple of times and find out about the person who took it. 

I watched the movie two times. First, to really listen and watch without interruption, second to make notes. Beautiful things were being said. About how a person's life shapes it into an artist, the influence of others around and most of all, how to put yourself in your work, be convinced of who you are and what you're doing. In this blog I want to write down how this documentary has personally affected me, through quotes of the movie and my thoughts about it. 

Developing yourself and your style in and through photography

'To be a photographer you have to nurture the things most people discard'  

'Avedon is looking through the camera at other people, finding the truth about them in a way of a search for himself''

'Instead of it being a cooperation, Avedon says: ‘You’re mine, I’m here, I’m taking over, your surfaces I will make my own. That was an enormous leap for photography, because it said: yes photography is real, it’s true, but it’s also a work of art that can be malleable as clay'

'Photography is not reportage, it's not journalism, it’s fiction …. It’s my view. My idea of …. as a fiction'

'What were you thinking when you were doing this? I don’t know. Well you ‘d better know, it’s your photograph!'

'When you engage with wanting to get it right, it’s a non negotiable thing.'


I find that as a beginning artist I'm very dependent on what other people think about what is beauty, or the way things should be done and also about things that other people discard or aren't aware of. In a way there's nothing wrong with it. I learn so much from looking at other people's work, think about why they think the way they do, what they like etc. I do see the danger of getting stuck in it though. Especially with my work as a family photographer, I hang on to formulas that work, because I've seen others doing it and I know that that is sort of expected. The danger lies in not developing more from there. Be comfortable in where you are, because it's easy and because you don't want to take the effort to discover more about yourself and develop more. These quotes and the movie as a whole made me realise that I must follow my own path and stay actively open to everything that comes my way, engage in the parts of photography that non artists would discard, really finding myself valuable enough to take the time to find my own passion and style, whether others will like it or not. 

Avedon on the other hand shows that art and commercial work can go hand in hand. His commercial work is a break from his art he says and he talks about how the cooperation with other art directors etc, on fashion shoots were very inspiring. Still, when doing his own work, he knows exactly what he wants and how he can achieve that.

Knowing your style and how to achieve what you want 

'I work with a series of nos. No to distracting elements in the photographs, no to exquisite light, no to a certain subject matter, a certain people, not people I cannot express myself through, no to the props. All these nos force me into the yes. And I have no help. I have a white background, I have the person I’m interested in and the thing that happens between us.'

'Sometimes it’s necessary to trick to sitter into what you want. But never for the sake of the trick.'

'Avedon is looking through the camera at other people, finding the truth about them in a way of a search for himself.'

'The property of a work of art is that it should be disturbing, evasive. it disturbs to make you think, to make you feel. If my work didn’t disturb from time to time, it would be a failure to me. It’s meant to disturb in a positive way.'

'I think I’m some kind of a reader… ‚What happens to me is that in work, I look for something in the face and what I look for is contradiction, complexity. Things that are contradictory and at the same time connected.'

'Genuine interest in the people he’s seeking out, in the stories they have to tell and the life experience they have.'

'The strongest belief that Avedon’s portraiture represents is that the finally there’s nothing but the face. It’s through the landscape of the face….it’s really how we know each other. There’s nothing on earth more fascinating than the human face.'

Finding your own style and way of working is a process that hopefully will never stop. What I have learnt from this documentary is that even though I might know that I'm not there yet, it doesn't mean that I shouldn't have confidence in the the way I work and have the guts to work the way I'd like to. I am the one who makes the decisions. I am the one who is responsible for thinking about what the image will look like, what I need to learn to make it look like I want it to. I'm the one who's responsible for being perfectionistic enough and not give up if I know that I haven't reached my goals yet.

Avedon continued working and discovering himself till the day he died, through his own work and commercial assignments. That's an example I want to follow. Not be distracted, but focused and finding yourself and your work important enough to not let go and nurture the things other people or sometimes even myself would discard.

Quotes taken from:

'Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light [tv series, online]
Dir. Helen Whitney. American Masters Production,
WNET, USA, 1995. 1min 38secs. (accessed 09/01/2014). 



Assignment 1 - Jan Vermeer

It's been a while since I posted, more than a month! My children had Christmas Break and it's always almost impossible to get something done, or at least to sit down and write. Much to my frustration! But onwards I go, full of inspiration and motivation to improve my photography and ways of expressing my thoughts about photography and art. Happy 2014 everybody!

Besides having done a few excercises about which I will blog later on, I have worked on an other portrait for my assignment, this time inspired by the paintings of Jan Vermeer.

Jan Vermeer (1660),  The Milk Maid  [oil on canvas] [online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from: (Accessed 6 January 2013)

Jan Vermeer (1660), The Milk Maid [oil on canvas] [online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from: (Accessed 6 January 2013)

There's nothing particularly special about liking Vermeer's paintings. I think one could say they're some of the most popular paintings in the history of art. But what speaks to me personally is that in Vermeer's paintings the colours and light, the natural expressions in the faces of the subjects and the daily things they are doing seem so unstaged and natural that I feel I'm standing in the same room as the artist. I sense some of the concentration and peace that one can find at home in every day tasks and moments. Vermeer doesn't shy away from giving a true depiction of the room, holes in the wall, rubbish on the floor included. Being Dutch myself, I recognize a lot of the props and furniture.

Jan Vermeer (1663),  Woman Reading a Letter  [oil on canvas][online image], Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from: Accessed on 6 January 2014

Jan Vermeer (1663), Woman Reading a Letter [oil on canvas][online image], Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from: Accessed on 6 January 2014

Vermeer was a master in looking at light and depicting the colour of light. As you can see in the image above, he adds a blue tint to the shadows of the chair and greyish look on the womans skin, which is the effect of the cool light through the windows. The colour palet in both paintings are what I experienced so often on a rainy day in The Netherlands. Cool, blueish and grey.

Vermeer portrays the beauty of subtle expressions in people's faces. the anticipation of the woman reading a letter, with her mouth slightly opened and her eyes gazed on the letter. With her pregnant belly one can just imagine what she's reading and how much she has been waiting for that news. It shows that he had a good eye for positioning the subject in such a way that the facial expressions are portrayed to the max, as seen in the image below, the way people sit or stand all have a function in portraying the concentration of activity that is taking place, even though the scene itself breaths tranquility.

Jan Vermeer (1658),  The Little Street  [oil on canvas] [online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from: (Accessed on 6 January 2014)

Jan Vermeer (1658), The Little Street [oil on canvas] [online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from: (Accessed on 6 January 2014)

There are a lot of horizontal and vertical lines in the images, giving them a good balance. On the other hand there are enough diagonals and curves to keep the images dynamic. The same counts for different layers in the images, like in 'The Little Street', where one stops at the front of the houses and from there on is lead in the small alley, the inside of the big house and all the way to the houses in the back. The same can be seen in a lot of the interior shots where scenes are placed behind an open curtain or in an other room that the viewer is led into.

So how about my own photos? When setting up the scene I wanted to first of all bring across the concentration on a person's face while at work and the effect of incoming natural light. I ended up in my friend's kitchen with an old sewing machine. The first set of images were taken on a cloudy day, even though in Dakar, weatherwise it couldn't have been more like a Dutch grey day.

When looking at the sequence, you'll see a change of scenery, colour and lighting. This is because I had put the last image of the upper row up on Flickr and received the following feedback from fellow students and a tutor:

  1. Some interesting vibrant results here.

    For me a common failing on this assignment is that students don't mix it up enough. I always tell them to shoot the person at work, rest and play and in a range of styles from conventional studio portrait to paparazzi when they're not expecting it or even security camera style. I rarely get that range. The idea is a rounded portrait, we see different aspects of the person, a portrait is more than a picture of a person.

    The above is pointed at other readers about to under take the assignment. You are in the process of making something more interesting and progressive from it.

    The overall composition here feels unbalanced for several reasons. The floor is too bright which pulls the eye down and left away from the subject and then there's the crack of light up the edge which is obviously meant to be cropped out. The figure and the machine are centred on the left hand half of the composition thus half the image area has nothing of any visual interest, it might as well be cropped to a portrait shape just using the left hand half.

    There's potential for a still life on the counter to the back and right to justify all that space but at the moment although there are some attractive specular highlights it's too murky to satisfy and the arrangement desultory.

    However with those fixes in place it provides a good counterpoint to the street images.

    Cross posted with Pete

  2. Lovely lighting on the figure, good points made by Clive. Did you take a shot just centred on the figure and sewing machine?

  3. This is why I so like this site. Looking at Clive's comments I can see the point about toning down the brightest area as it pulls the eye, but for me I would keep the window in frame as the light in the window and the light at the front provide a depth (two points) to the image whereas Richard's suggested crop would make it very flat. Just thoughts :)

  4. Vermeer often seemed to have a map on the top right hand quarter of his paintings - on the wall behind the subject drawing attention to the wider world as a sort of counterpoint to the image of domestic harmony, I think it was a political comment about something, but I can't remember what! Anyway, for me there is definitely a visual gap where that's missing!
    Otherwise its great ... its so nice to see something different with portraits


  5. That's why I suggested making more of the still life Pete. The window does add that extra interest but it's not enough on its own to balance out everything else being on the left hand half. It needs a little bit more going on than what looks like a bottle, one more element, and I do think overall there should be a bit more detail in the shadows anyway.

    Here's a photographer to look at for shooting in the style of painters

    Google on his name too. I used to have a link to his earlier work which was simpler in concept but I can't find it any more.


  6. Well he's one for my new learning log :)

  7. I originally saw his work in Zoom magazine back in the mid-70s. Some of it was shot for a margarine campaign I think, I've still got the magazine somewhere. In terms of being painterly I'd never seen anything that came anywhere near it, superbly done, lit with fantastic sensitivity and skill. Some of his contemporary work is very different though.

  8. Ah here are some more

So I added a still life in the scene to balance it out better and add some interest in the back. I have been working on the colour palet a bit more with twin toning in LR. I'm still not sure about the final look though, who knows I'll change that before sending it in. So here's the final image!


Assignment 1 - Yousouf Karsh

It's fascinating to learn about photographers whose work I have looked at before without ever thinking about the way the photographs were taken, let alone about the photographer himself. Yousouf Karsh is one of them.

Karsh has a very distinct style, which I recognized after googling 'portrait photography' in images. They have a lot of contrast, dark blacks and highlights through rim- and back lighting. Most portraits are from the waist up or only head and shoulders with the face a bit turned to the side. When the subject is facing the camera there is a clear interaction between the subject and the photographer.

On his website, Karsh' life is told in his own words. He grew up in Armenia amongst very difficult circumstances. Subject to terror and violence from the Turks, his family endured hunger and persecution. Amongst all the hatred Karsh learned from his mother not to hate, even as the oppression continued.

"One day, I returned from school, my forehead bleeding. I had been stoned by Turkish boys who tried to take away my only playthings, a few marbles. “Wait,” I told my mother defiantly, “from now on I am the one who will carry stones.” My mother took me in her arms and said, “My son, they do not know what they are doing. However, if you must retaliate — be sure you miss!”

After Karsh and his family fled to Syria, at the age of 17 Karsh was sent to Canada to live with his uncle, who was a photographer. In his generosity he gave him a camera and taught him all about photography and art.

More about his life and work can be read at his website. It is very inspiring for sure!

What I learned from reading about Karsh' life and looking at his portraits is the following:

1. Portrait photography is more than knowing all the technicalities, it is about being willing to get to know as much as possible about the subject that you're portraying and hitting the moment when that authenticity that you've come to know is revealed. The way you can get that authenticity starts with wanting to know the subject, acting upon that, but also knowing in post process which look is most authentic to the person you've come to know.

In this way of working the interaction between the photographer and subject becomes most important, showing a specific aspect of the subject and showing how the photographer has worked and interacted to get that aspect out.

2. In Karsh' notes on his photos I notice a sincere involvement in the subject, a respect and even love. To me that shows that being a photographer is more than having the technical skills, but also having a world view, or philosophy that believes that fullfillment, or maybe even the meaning of a life comes to show through making an image in a specific way. Karsh' images show that he was taught not to hate and that all human being was valuable, regardless them being good or bad.

3. It is okay to use methods to make people look beautiful. Karsh' images are glamorous, show the beauty of a person through their expressions, but definitely also through the lighting and I guess also in the postproduction in the dark room. There is a clear difference between the way women are portrayed. Much less use of harsh direct light, more soft light and rim lighting. Women don't have wrinkles (except mother Teresa and Helen Keller, but okay...) and have their faces evenly lit. The men on the other hand definitely show their wrinkles and are often lit in a difeferent way, from the side that shows more texture, as well.

On this page are a few exmples that are particularly striking.

So now on to my own trials! To get the Karsh' look in my image I decided to use a diffused flash from the side and a reflector on the other side. The reason for that was that I wanted to show highlights and get the same contrasty kind of image as is seen in a lot of the male images. Now I think I maybe should have lit my subject differently since she is a woman and would have been lit with more diffused light by Karsh as well I guess... An other challenge is that I don't have any other lighting gear except for the flash and reflector.



When I took this serie of images I thought I was doing really well, but when looking at them on the computer I see that the composition is just not right and well balanced. Besides that, I miss a bit of authenticity in the look of my friend. We were talking and having a good interaction, but this image is not a good reflection of it.


This image has more contrast and is taken with a different focal length, making the image overall more interesting. I'm still not happy with the expression though and I think the image lacks dynamic.


This image is my final choice. It's not a pose that you find in Karsh' work, but I think the lighting and contrast comes closest to his work. Besides that, the look on the subject's face draws the viewer in and is telling something, it is less dull than the other images. The upward look to the light is a pose that Karsh uses a lot in his images of women and so is the use of the highlights on the eyes of the subject.

Finally, I realize that the image doesn't come close to Karsh' work, but I notice that focusing on the work of an artist helps me to get an idea on how to take different kind of portraits, on discovering new techniques and most of all, just emerge myself in the way other artists got to where they are, how they learnt and were influenced themselves. How they lived and were influenced by their philosophies, the people they met, etc.

Every morning I wake up feeling so fortunate to have the time and possibilities to do this.

Portraits Assignment 1: Edward Hopper

I'm not completely done with all the exercises, but have already started doing some thinking on how I would like to approach the first assignment. The idea is to create 5 to 7 different portraits, each with their own style and setting. Since I thought I needed to investigate different styles of portraits in other arts, I have been looking at a lot of  painters and look at how they approach their subjects, lighting, color, etc. I find myself a big fan of all of them, especially now that I'm becoming aware of how much thinking and techniques it takes to make a good portrait. But anyway, I'm starting off with Edward Hopper, who even though he was a painter, uses a very photographic style in his work. 

I'll take a look at a few images and just describe what I notice and how I could use that in my own photo taking. 

Edward Hopper (1962),  New York Office  [oil on canvas] [online image]. Montgomery: Museum of Fine Arts. Available from: (Accessed 12 November 2013)

Edward Hopper (1962), New York Office [oil on canvas] [online image]. Montgomery: Museum of Fine Arts. Available from: (Accessed 12 November 2013)

In the majority of Hopper's portraits he takes an outside perspective, showing the building the subject is standing in, from the outside, or at least showing the outside space of the place the subject is in. This puts the subject in a larger context and gives the image a mysterious feel. Every image shows that there's a lot more to investigate. I also notice how Hopper shows how the light from the different spaces interact with each other and influence each other. Mainly through the use of dark and light spaces, but also through the shadows and change of color that each different type of lighting brings along. 

Edward Hopper (1940), Room in New York [oil on canvas] [online image]. Lincoln: Sheldon Museum of Art. Available from: (Accessed on 12 November 2013)

Edward Hopper (1940), Room in New York [oil on canvas] [online image]. Lincoln: Sheldon Museum of Art. Available from: (Accessed on 12 November 2013)

All subjects in Hopper's paintings are not or very absent minded interacting with either the painter or with each other. They are all far away in their own thoughts or activities. None of the subjects in Hopper's paintings look straight at the painter, except for his self portrait. This makes the viewer feel even more as an outsider and alien from the scene that is looked at. It triggers one's curiosity and has a suspicious feel to it. 

Edward Hopper (1942),  Nighthawks  [oil on canvas] [online image]. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago. Available from: (Accessed 12 November 2013)

Edward Hopper (1942), Nighthawks [oil on canvas] [online image]. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago. Available from: (Accessed 12 November 2013)

I find that Hopper's compositions are all very strong and thought out. The uses of lines and curves really draws the viewer into the image and lets it look around. The use of color and light accentuates that even more. While looking at the image, one discovers more and more details that add to the narrative of the image.  


In order to photograph in Hopper's style, I have tried to use these elements in my lighting, compositions and post processing. When reviewing my images, I realized that Hopper uses a lot of bright light, even though a lot of scenes are taken in the dark. At first I had taken this image, which in my idea reflected the light, but it turned out to be too diffused (although when I look at the Nighthawks one could say that the light in the diner is also pretty diffused). Besides that, I didn't like the way my model's face looks regarding the color of her skin and shadows.


The next image was taken in the pool, I like the shadows of the door and how the subject is sort of in between inside and outside. I do think that the lights are not bright enough to portray the feeling that I'd like to get. Besides that, the camera was too much focused on the subject to show enough of the surroundings. For example, it would have been nice to have more view on the pool and the light. Maybe if taken from an other angle it would have had a better effect.


The final image is the one that I find most successful. In post process I have adapted the exposure a bit, cloned out some distracting objects and a few more adaptations. I do think the image has a very painterly effect that goes a little bit in Hopper's realm. Also in this case, I would have liked to have a different lens and a bit bigger living room so that I could have shown the window, the shadows of the table more and been able to put the model out of the middle of the frame.  The image is still too dark for Hopper's standards but if I crank up the exposure the image gets too grainy. 


I really enjoy doing these kind of exercises. It helps so much in defining why an image looks the way it does and knowing how you want an image to look like when producing it.  

Poses and Portraits

Preparing for the next exercise, I thought it would be nice to have a look at some different sculptures and what kind of effect their poses have on the overall character and feel. So I've been looking through the collection that's on the website of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. These sculptures all date back to the Middle Ages and beginning of renaissance and it's obvious that in those days they had an other function, or better said, a broader function than just being beautiful for arts' sake. First of all, there are the poses that show the profile of the face.  

Tullio 1 Lombardo (around 1500)  Portrait of Bellini . [sculpture] [online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from:,1  [Accessed 7 November 2013].    

Tullio 1 Lombardo (around 1500) Portrait of Bellini. [sculpture] [online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from:,1 [Accessed 7 November 2013]. 


Mr Bellini is looking straight forward and although we can't see the expression of his face too well, it is obvious by his direct look and grim that he is proud and confident. His position is not completely natural, it shows that he is making an effort to sit up straight and keep his chin up.

Speriando di Bartolomeo Savelli (1473)  Portrait of Elena of Aragon . [sculpture] [online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from:,58  [Accessed 7 November 2013]

Speriando di Bartolomeo Savelli (1473) Portrait of Elena of Aragon. [sculpture] [online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from:,58 [Accessed 7 November 2013]

Eleonora's sculpture is quite similar to Mr Bellini's in showing status. However, the way this is done is not so much through her pose, which is neutral and expressionless, but much more in showing her refined clothes and jewelry. Lots of conclusions can be drawn from this thinking about gender issues and all :-)

Next, I'd like to show a few sculptures that were made for religious purposes.

Giovanni Battista Caccini (1598),  Christ as Saviour   [sculpture][online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from:,2  [Accessed 7 November 2013]

Giovanni Battista Caccini (1598), Christ as Saviour  [sculpture][online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from:,2 [Accessed 7 November 2013]

The first thing I notice is the fact that Christ is looking down to the side, which can be seen as a very humble pose, almost excusing oneself for being there. It's a bit contrasting with the title of the sculpture, especially when you think about him being a saviour, you might expect a more powerful pose. Christ does have a soft smile which brings about a tender and comforting feeling and brings an accessibility to the sculpture, despite His turned away gaze.

Anonymous (around 1500),  Saint Vitus   [sculpture] [online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from:,12  [Accessed 7 November 2013]

Anonymous (around 1500), Saint Vitus  [sculpture] [online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from:,12 [Accessed 7 November 2013]

The pose of Vitus is almost similar to that of Christ, showing the humble and sort of placid characteristics of a saint. However, because his face is somewhat tilted and we have a better view on his stare, this sculpture conveys a certain sense of desperation and sadness. Not too strange when if you realize that he's being boiled in a pot of oil and tar. Considering that, it shows the piety to remain pretty calm under excruciating circumstances!

The following sculpture depicts Caritas and even though it has a lot of common with the religious sculptures, there are some differences. 

Lorenzo Bartolini (1842 - 1845)  Carita educatrice   [sculpture] [online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from:,0  [Accessed 7 November 2013]

Lorenzo Bartolini (1842 - 1845) Carita educatrice  [sculpture] [online image]. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum. Available from:,0 [Accessed 7 November 2013]

First of all, there are many more focused and engaged expressions in the faces. I guess this has something to do with the fact that the sculpture was made in a different period, but what's interesting is that it's really the posing of the head that makes us aware of the feelings of the people. First of all, although the mother and boy are looking down, they are not looking away and their expressions serve a purpose. This keeps the viewer much more focused on the message of care and education. The hands of the mother are very protective and at the same time directive. The way the baby and child are leaning against the mother shows the trust that they have in her and the comfort they feel being with her.

I'll finish off with a sculpture that wants to convey the power and status of a person. 

Hendrik de Keyser (I) (1608),  Statue of a man, probably Vincent Coster   [statue] [online image] Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum .        (Accessed 7 November 2013)   

Hendrik de Keyser (I) (1608), Statue of a man, probably Vincent Coster  [statue] [online image] Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum.   (Accessed 7 November 2013)


A first look at this statue makes us believe that we're dealing with a true aristocrat. The way he looks up and above, showing strength and vision, his wavy hair and Roman cloak accentuate power and wealth. He's looking away, but absolutely not in the humble way that we see in the religious statues. He's too up and above to want to have to do with the viewer.  Funny enough, Vincent Coster was a 'wine measurer', somebody who decided on how much wine was taxed. Not very rich, but probably quite influential. I can't help but wonder what other people must have been thinking when they looked at this statue in those days. This statue is a good example of how pose and facial expression reveals can bring the message of how the person wants to be looked at.