Photography: Seduced by Art

The exhibition Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present that is currently on view at The National Gallery, makes some interesting juxtapositions to show how photographers over the years have been influenced by the works of the Old Masters. And how the possibilities allowed by technology, influence not only the production of a work but also the subject matter.

In the past, the fact that a painting could take several hours, days or even years to complete, allowed for the artists to capture the essence of a sitter or an event, and create a ‘smooth synthesis of observations over time rather than a record of a single moment.’ The advent of photography changed that and more.

Thomas Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews (about 1750) – above, versus Martin Parr’s Signs of the Times, England (1991) – below.

While the expressions on the faces of the couple featured in Gainsborough’s work have nothing to do with their actual emotions at the time of the painting, Parr on the other hand is known for delaying taking a shot to make his sitters more conscious of the camera lens.

How many times have we posed for a photograph, where the photographer takes just a few seconds too long to click? The once ready smile soon turns painted and we can’t wait for it to be over.

Rineke Dijkstra is another artist who highlights discomfort in her photographs, and is know for her images of young adolescents posing at the water’s edge, a series she did on new mothers, and another series on bullfighters. Featuring subjects who are fractured, or on a the edge of the unknown, Dijkstra awakens feelings of empathy in her audience; a sense of ‘I’ve been there before too, and it goes away sooner or later.’

Rineke Dijkstra Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26 1992 (1992)

An interesting question the exhibition raises is, at what exact point does nudity and nakedness in art become obscene to one?

While public opinion does change with the time, would you be fine with your young child looking at a nude painting by one of the Old Masters, versus a similarly themed contemporary nude photograph? The fact that photography makes things seem more real and is unsparingly detailed, means that we can no longer hold on to the age-old concept of idealised nudity. It’s all just naked now with tasteful being the only distinction.

Richard Learoyd’s Man with Octopus Tattoo II (2011) – below, is the mesmerising poster image for this exhibition, and made me want to delve deeper into his oeuvre.

Also part of the display is Maisie Maud Broadhead and Jack Cole’s amusing video work titled An Ode to Hill and Adamson (2011), that is based on the photograph of Elizabeth Rigby, the future Lady Eastlake (1847) by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson – below.

Maisie Maud Broadhead and Jack Cole’s An Ode to Hill and Adamson (2011)

Broadhead also has a stunning photograph titled Keep Them Sweet (2010) – below, that is part of the display. If you look closer, the bracelet being offered to the mother by the child  is half candy and half silver.

Broadhead’s work is said to reference Simon Vouet’s Allegory of Wealth (c. 1630-1635) – below, and the similarities are quite obvious.

Ignace-Henri-Théodore Fantin-Latour, is another artist whose The Rosy Wealth of June (1886) – below, has inspired Ori Gersht’s series Time After Time, where Gersht freezes up bouquets of flowers with liquid nitrogen and then captures them exploding on video and in photographs.

As part of this series, Ori Gersht’s has made a range of photographs titled Blow Up – below, and a video work Big Bang (2007). The video piece is actually much longer than this YouTube clip I could find online; to truly experience it is to see it live in the National Gallery where the ‘bang’ hits you when you’ve just about given up waiting for it. It’s almost like the camera ‘click’ coming seconds too late, just when you’ve lost interest in looking at the lens.

Ori Gersht, Big Bang (2007)

Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present
Up to 20 Jan 2013
The National Gallery

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