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04-27-2021, 01:12 PM - 2 Likes   #1
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If the Artist had a Camera...

The other week I gave a presentation on monochrome photography for a local camera club. While I was updating my presentation I wanted to strengthen the section on "why black & white?" and came up with this idea: What if the master artists of yore had cameras rather than paints and brushes?

For my presentation I picked Vermeer's Girl with the Pearl Earring and created the two slides shown below.

Then I got to thinking that perhaps it could be fun if other folks chose a favorite artist or masterpiece that they think could be translated into black & white. So if this interests you, just pick your favorite artist or painting, find an image on the web, finish it in monochrome, and share it. I would love to some other folks ideas.






Last edited by AggieDad; 05-01-2021 at 08:25 AM.
04-27-2021, 02:07 PM   #2
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I think it would look more like a daguerreotype than a black and white print.
04-27-2021, 03:21 PM   #3
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That is an interesting idea. B&W is something you have to think about differently. I wonder - if colour photography had arrived before B&W (a silly idea, I know) - would we have thought about B&W?
04-27-2021, 03:22 PM - 3 Likes   #4
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It is believed that Vermeer did use a camera - a camera obscura. He would have made his preliminary sketch from an adjacent darkened room with a lens set in a hole between the rooms projecting the scene onto his paper or canvas, inverted of course.

Many of his portraits show the same room from the same angle with the window on the left in the same place, including the well known The Milkmaid and The Astronomer (1st pic below). Careful study of the perspective of his studio pictures indicate that a camera obscura was used, for example in giving the looming effect of a wide angle lens when the subjects were closer.

As for other artists, The Black Brunswicker by Millais works well in B&W as the soldier has a black uniform and his girlfriend wears white satin. In fact the B&W version makes the dress really pop out and it is a marvel how Millais captures the gloss of the dress, with paint! The model for the girl was Charles Dickens' daughter. There are some subtle ironies in the picture - one is the girl's dog. The scene is supposed to be on the eve of the Waterloo campaign, during which the Brunswickers (who were on the Anglo-Dutch side) got into bad grace by eating a dog which was the mascot of a British regiment.








Last edited by Lord Lucan; 04-27-2021 at 04:04 PM. Reason: Clarity & tpyo
04-27-2021, 03:23 PM   #5
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You should check out what artists have actually shot with cameras. Degas, Robert Rauschenberg, and many many more, too numerous to list.

And to the point about camera obscura above, Holbein.
04-27-2021, 05:07 PM   #6
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David Hockney wrote an excellent book on the use of optics in old master paintings, "Secret Knowledge"
I think there is a BBC or PBS Nova video on it too,
Quite a bit of research and evidence presented.
04-27-2021, 05:22 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by K-Three Quote
David Hockney wrote an excellent book on the use of optics in old master paintings, "Secret Knowledge"
I think there is a BBC or PBS Nova video on it too,
Quite a bit of research and evidence presented.
I think I might have seen that video. I recall seeing something about this.
04-27-2021, 07:37 PM   #8
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How interesting. This has moved in a direction I did not anticipate. The comments about Vermeer and the camera obscura are very interesting.

While I knew the camera obscura existed in his time, I never gave a thought to him using it. This site, The Essential Vermeer, has a very interesting discussion about Vermeer and his use of (or lack of use of) the camera obscura.

There is a lot of discussion of different artists and camera obscura going back to DaVinci who was among the first to experiment with it for images.

04-27-2021, 08:33 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by PJ1 Quote
That is an interesting idea. B&W is something you have to think about differently. I wonder - if colour photography had arrived before B&W (a silly idea, I know) - would we have thought about B&W?
I think there would be very little b&w photography.
04-27-2021, 10:09 PM   #10
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I like black and white photography. Less is more.
04-27-2021, 10:44 PM   #11
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Artists have of course have long used black and white imagery in the form of charcoal drawings.
04-27-2021, 11:40 PM   #12
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i always wondered why hand-colored photos were so much worse/ less natural than paintings.
04-28-2021, 04:39 AM   #13
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I'll make an assertion not backed by facts, the impetus to make color available to the artist in any medium has been complementary to, not in competition with, any use of BW.

BW art in any medium is generally simpler to produce, but the human eye sees in color, and generally humans desire to see familiar objects rendered in color. Even marble and terracotta statuary was painted in some cultures.

Don't forget, those colored images transformed to BW would likely not have been painted in the same hues/tones, colored filter BW conversion offer a wide variety of results. The best example I can give is the cinema and TV images where special attention was paid to the often garish contrasting colors used on sets costumes, even make up so the images would appear "natural" in BW.

I often convert color images to BW using colored filter presets, depending on the subject, the results can vary widely.

Old hand-tinted BW images often look unnatural because of the limitations of the printing and dye making of the time. IT's pretty incredible how modern digital processing can transform BW images into something almost modern and lifelike.
04-30-2021, 02:41 AM - 1 Like   #14
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Not many other examples yet, so here are two that I don't think work in B&W.

The first is The Lady of Shalott by J.W.Waterhouse. It is a scene from Tennyson's poem of the same name and one of my favourite paintings. It is a portrait, a landscape, and it is gothic - what's not to like! I write gothic poetry myself. Waterhouse was effectively a second-generation Pre-Raphaelite, a movement of near-photographic painting with fanatical attention to detail, even in the background - no bokeh for them! I believe that some inspiration for this painting came from Millais' earlier Death of Orphelia, a scene from Hamlet, the second picture. Millais was one of the original Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The Orphelia scene in Hamlet, and Tennyson's poem, are full of colour. The colourful tapestry that the Lady of Shalott is weaving in depiction of the outside world is central to the poem, and of course that is lost in B&W, although it is still not a bad picture.

---------------------------------------------------------------------
From Tennyson's poem :-

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
...

He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flam'd upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.


---------------------------------------------------------------------

The Lady of Shalott by J.W.Waterhouse :





The Death of Orphelia by J.E.Millais :



04-30-2021, 03:44 AM   #15
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I wonder how the old masters, who loved their vivid pigments, would have dealt with Ansel Adams et al - didn't they argue that colour photography was vulgar and only black & white was actuality artistic
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