Saturday, 4 June 2011

On Inspiration and Perspiration.

On Inspiration and PerspirationI am always inspired to take photographs when I am in Amsterdam. I find the scenery in this city to be very stimulating and I end up taking a lot of photographs on every visit. Also, there are many fabulous galleries and exhibits where the art on display causes me to step back and think about my own work. On this particular trip we took in Museum het Rembrandthuis and the World Press Photo 11 show. These two exhibits inspired me to push my limits and sweat out a new style of shooting, as you can see in the first image above.

Angie and I planned to go to the Palace at Dam Square, then head over to the Oude Kerk where the World Press Photo exhibit usually hangs out, and wrap up with a visit to Rembrandt’s House.

The Palace, which dominates one end of Dam Square, has been closed for renovations since before I began visiting Amsterdam. I have never been inside it. I have never read any reviews that say it is a stupendous place to see, unlike the wonderful Ch√Ęteau de Versailles. However, the constant denial of seeing the inside for myself has built up and actually doing it is now a fixation of mine. On the trip to the hotel from the airport I always ask the taxi driver if the Palace is open. For the past 7 years, the answer has been “no”, but this time I was shocked to hear a “yes”!

I was worried that the taxi driver misunderstood my question, which is not uncommon with taxi drivers who do not share the same first language with you. However, as we approached the Palace we could see signs on the fencing surrounding the Palace confirming that it was open. I’m guessing I am not the only one anxious to see inside!

On Inspiration and Perspiration

Imagine my disappointment, after all of the build-up, to walk around to the entrance only to find a much, much smaller sign announcing that, in fact, the Palace was STILL CLOSED!

On Inspiration and Perspiration


From Dam Square, it is a short walk over to the Oude Kerk, where World Press Photo 11 was on display. This is a fabulous, inspirational, and disturbing collection of the world’s best photojournalism. Yes, I did say "disturbing". Many of the photos document humanity's ability to intentionally hurt, which is always disturbing. See for yourself at the on-line version of the exhibit here.

The Oude Kerk is a great place to host a major photography exhibit with its large space and bright light.

On Inspiration and Perspiration

Besides looking at the photos themselves, I indulge in a bit of voyeurism and watch for people's reaction as they look at the images.

On Inspiration and Perspiration

I’m always amazed at the eclectic nature of the audience of this exhibit and am especially happy to see young people in the audience.

On Inspiration and Perspiration


These photos never cease to amaze me. The ability of street shooters to capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson called “the decisive moment” is very inspiring. To paraphrase HCB, there is a moment in which to make an image and in an instant it is gone forever. There are no studio lights to adjust to get a better composition, only ambient light. There are no models to pose, only a subject who may not even want their photo taken. These photographers do not get any “do-overs”. There is just them, their camera, and what is around them. They can shoot, or not shoot. No one around them really cares. They have to capture what they see in a way that interests others, and they have to do this while in a slightly hostile environment (or sometimes very hostile environment, as we saw with the deaths of Chris Hondros and Tim Heatherington).


Painters live at the opposite end of the time-composition spectrum from where photojournalists hang out. Painters create everything, typically in the safe environment of their home. They build their composition from scratch. They add every detail and every lumen of tonal contrast because they want them there. I guess painters have the ultimate version of “Photoshop”.

The painters who inspire me the most are the Dutch Masters, Chris Pratt, and Edward Hopper. I find what these artists have done with light and composition very inspirational. I can look over and over again at De Nachtwacht (or more properly titled The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch). I never seem to get bored with it.

Angie loves Rembrandt as much as I do, so when I discovered that there was a Museum het Rembrandthuis (Rembrandt’s House Museum), there was no question of not going to see it.

The lighting inside was very soft, coming from large windows high up on the wall, much higher than you would expect, especially from an era when people were quite short.

On Inspiration and Perspiration

The exhibits were wonderful, giving me a lot of new insight into his life. You could see where he slept, ate, and worked. I took this one of Angie next to the spot where Rembrandt painted De Nachtwacht.

On Inspiration and Perspiration

However my inspiration began to turn to perspiration as I tried to take photographs in the style of Rembrandt. After all, it was his house and I thought it only appropriate to do so. Taking a photo that looks like a painting is not an easy job. I have been trying to do this for many years as part of my abstract shooting. On this particular trip, all the pieces started to come together. Here is a shot of the door to Rembrandt’s kitchen.

On Inspiration and Perspiration

Here is the left side of the fireplace in the kitchen itself.

On Inspiration and Perspiration

The way the light fell in the kitchen was such that the right side of the fireplace looked quite different. There was no dominant red here, but there was a quite interesting green pot.

On Inspiration and Perspiration

Upstairs, I learned that Rembrandt assigned the task of making his paints to his apprentices. It wasn’t hard to imagine Rembrandt hovering over these pots of paint, freshly made, selecting which he would use for his next painting.

On Inspiration and Perspiration


I was quite pleased with this evolution in my still life abstract work, so I tried applying these new techniques to my street photography. Here is an abstract of wooden tulips a sidewalk vendor had for sale.

On Inspiration and Perspiration


Adding these concepts to the process I use for my nighttime street photography seems like a natural thing to do. I quite admire the style of Edward Hopper, such as his 1942 painting The Nighthawks, and I think this now gives me a technique to emulate his style.

By removing details from the scene and adding a swirl of a painter’s brush, I find I am able to add a touch of mystery to the image. What does this guy want? Does the fellow inside know him? What will happen next?

On Inspiration and Perspiration

I am still exploring this concept, seeking the limits of where the technique works and where it doesn’t. I have no idea where it will take me, but here are some more samples:

On Inspiration and Perspiration

On Inspiration and Perspiration

On Inspiration and Perspiration

A slide show of the photos in a larger size is here.

2 comments:

ryken said...

This is excellent work. Very interesting processing. Looking forward to seeing more of your work.

zzmelayu said...

Like +1