Artworks that have long influenced my photography 

These images all had an immediate, emotional impact on me when I first saw them. However, I did not understand and could not articulate why, at the time.

Rene Magritte, The Empire of Lights

I first saw Magritte’s paintings in my late teens and found his strange juxtapositions interesting and often humorous. However, this painting and its composition is a lasting influence. The 2-dimensional, theatre set feeling of the street scene is comforting but also a barrier to the brightness beyond.

Today, this is a compositional trope that I regularly employ.

Andre Kertesz, Martinique

Since first seeing this image in the 1980’s it has been continuously influential in two ways.

First, that sense of mystery and narrative created by the shadowy figure which became the primary inspiration for, and the subsequent direction of my BA final degree project after I came across this scene at Tyntesfield House in Bristol.

Secondly, Kertesz’s seeing and using such strong geometrical shapes results, like in the Magritte painting, in a 2-dimensional impression. There seems to be almost no depth between the handrail and the horizon.

Edward Hopper, Rooms by the Sea

The attraction of this painting is a mixture of the strange, perhaps impossible juxtaposition of the sea and the rooms, plus the 2-dimensional geometric shapes.

Although it is possible to see depth in the image when looking into the second room, most of the majority of the picture is easily be viewed as being 2-dimensional, without any depth. I was so inspired by this painting that trying to reproduce such a strange, inside/ outside, impression was the first thing I tried when I acquired Photoshop in 2003.

Hopper’s works all have a quiet, stillness to them where the viewer can feel like they are being invasive, as if we shouldn’t be looking at the scene. When Hopper’s paintings include people, they are always in private, reflective moments and so the viewer is inevitably a voyeur. Yet, for me, even when there are no people, as above, it still feels like I, the viewer, am an intruder and should not be there. I find that an interesting effect as that is often how I react when I am on-location for my own images. I am always a visitor who is not wholly sure they are welcome.

The next artist who started to influence my work is Andrew Wyeth. His landscapes are very much the landscapes that appeal to me, often wide open, remote and sparsely populated. His works also capture a quiet, stillness, a sense of solitude, even loneliness, especially so in this painting of “Christina’s World”.

The refuge of the house and barn are far off for Christina and she appears to be pleading with them to be noticed. However, the barn has no windows and so is blind and the house has all its windows facing the other way. Neither can see her. Wyeth’s apparently simple compositions are capable of evoking extensive narratives as shown in the next two of his paintings. Unlike Christina’s World, these painting have very little depth to them. They are quite 2-dimensional in appearance.

Without knowing even, the titles of these paintings the viewer is encouraged to make up stories about who, why and how they came to be.

It was the colours, shapes and flat perspective of this scene in Puglia that reminded me of the Wyeth painting and encouraged me to press the shutter. And, like the Wyeth picture there is a lot of narrative potential in the scene.

Although I enjoy much of the work by both Magritte and Kertesz not all excites to the same degree at the images shown above. For images where my primary response has been humour, I am less likely to be inspired by them, even when the narrative potential is significant. As when spectacle (visual drama) is my primary response, humour also tends to be a block to my further investigation into the image’s meanings.

These below, from Kertesz and Magritte, respectively, are such examples.

 Conclusions

The juxtapositions of man-made objects and their landscape that encourage narratives and or create a surreal 2-dimensional visual effect have been key drivers for my enjoyment of paintings and photographs for over 40 years but only now am I starting to understand their significance.

 

 

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