Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Today, we have more portraits in our daily life than we ever had in the history. Our hard drives, our cameras, our facebook pages overflow with snapshots, but not many people still have portraits, as in “photography purposefully arranged to depict your looks, or even your personality.”

In the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, portraits were a big thing, and almost everyone had one of their portraits, either a family one, or maybe a wedding one.( These were sometimes even handed out as a sort of calling cards.) Shot in an atelier, these photos were mostly a face or bust closeup, probably with some generic background.

One of the people challenging this concept was Arnold Newman, photographer known best for his environmental portrait. His thesis, basically, is that your environment (i.e. office, your tools, your room, your favorite chair…) says a great deal about you, and therefore should be depicted in your portrait as well.

“I didn’t just want to make a photograph with some things in the background,” Newman told American Photo magazine in an interview. “The surroundings had to add to the composition and the understanding of the person. No matter who the subject was, it had to be an interesting photograph. Just to simply do a portrait of a famous person doesn’t mean a thing.”

To this day, this thesis is valid for me, and I am glad I can always, when I deliberately portrait someone, look in my mind on one of Newman’s environmental portraits, and try to break few rules to get an interesting result. Try it, it’s fun to suggest and great pleasure to see the reaction of the portrayed person.

Sources: PhotoZone, Wikipedia, Arnold Newman Archive


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When asked about my favorite landscape photographer, the name of Ansel Adams always comes on my mind. He is also alphabetically the first one in almost any photography book, so I think he is a good start for my artistic blog.

I’m sure you’ve seen his photographs, although he is not one of those “event photographers” whose pictures are connected with wars, human rights or documentary. And yet he is a great documenter. He documented nature, trying to help to preserve it for next generation through his pictures.

A good photograph is knowing where to stand. (Ansel Adams)

In his photography, we can observe very clear composition and careful exposition. Nothing disturbs the image, the emotion, be it calm, soothing peace or magnificent, somewhat dramatic moment, is always faithfully communicated. I really admire the light, the exposition, carefully thought through to deliver effective contrast between objects and to show the sharp deepness of the perspective. For some pictures, Adams waited for hours, others he claims to have spotted almost randomly.

My favorite ones are those taken at night, for example the last one – Moon and Half Dome – it is example of an excellent lightning, as well as really clear composition. Adams made this photography at 4:14 PM, December 28 of year 1960, it is one of his last works. This photography was kept unseen until 1962, when Adams’ son, Michael, and his bride-to-be, used it for their wedding announcement.

Ansel Adams is a master of light. Photography is the translation of “painting with light” from Greek, so I guess he really captured the core of what “photographer” means. There are no people in nature as Adams sees it. He leaves people to other photographers. His intention was “to present – through the medium of photography – intuitive observations of the natural world which may have meaning to the spectators.” But there is no doubt that, as nature itself, his photography keeps stunning us. He knew his models very well…

A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed. (Ansel Adams)

Rules? What rules?

How do you take a good photography according to Adams? In his own words:

  • Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.
  • In wisdom gathered over time I have found that every experience is a form of exploration.
  • A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words.
  • There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.
  • You don’t take a photograph, you make it.
  • There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.

I hope this article somehow summarized what I think is interesting and inspiring about Adams. Of course, as any great artist, his life is so full of stories that I can’t even start to tell (because I don’t know them). Still, I often, when taking picture, think of Adam’s advices, about his precision and patience. About meaningful waiting, about beautiful results, about communicating with the viewer. And about humility:

Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.


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Few to none people would openly admit they don’t like art. Especially if we talk about old masters of art, universally accepted as the founders of new art forms, geniuses of all times. But to me it is obvious that art is very personal matter, and everyone should be free to experience it that way.

At school, I wasn’t so fond of Art History lessons. I was too consumed by computer-related discoveries and had little time to ponder on how perspective was discovered or how chiaroscuro changed the way emotions were depicted. I did not appreciate the world of art, because I had few tools to really grasp it. I memorized the names and passed all tests with flying colors, but didn’t feel like I understand the basics of art. Not that it bothered me in any way.

Learning to see art

After graduating from high school, I was accepted to pretty good University and started to study journalism. Being writer and “teacher” since I can’t remember, I was fascinated with how media works. Karel Čapek, famous Czech journalist and writer, once called it the “everyday mirracle” – the newspaper, no matter what, are published every day, somehow all these hundreds of authors and graphics come together to create one piece of papers with texts, pictures and (hopefully) meaning in it.

I also found the love towards photography. Or, I should probably say, discovered, since I realize now this comes from my father, keen photographer since his childhood. When applied to black and white photography course, I thought I knew how to take pictures. You point and shoot, then you crop and play with your software until something you can post on-line comes out, right? Luckily, we were taught how to do the “old-school photography”. You know? Film, darkroom with dim red light, developing, stabilizing, washing, drying, lot’s of paper, trial and error… And, after long journey, mastery. Or, at least, understanding.

We also had many courses about history of photography. How the technology was born in the 19th century, who were the first masters and how photography parted from painting, dominant art form of that time. And this brought to my attention two important things.

The Inspiration of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio

Caravaggio's painting "The Inspiration of Saint Matthew" got my attention in Rome like few other pictures. The clean composition (thanks to dark background and warmly lit figures) is something we can learn to do in photography as well. We will have trouble making the draperies so well-arranged, though.

First, I realized how history is tremendously important to understand the core of almost any skill, knowledge or subject. The process of developing the current state of knowledge is not only interesting, but crucial to realize the inner meaning of individual pieces of knowledge in their context. Knowing how and why flash photography was born and utilized, I know what problems the flash brought and what problems it was supposed to cure. When learning a language, seemingly absurd rules can be explained by their historical reasons, thus better and firmer understood. I recently read a book from Neil Postman called Technopoly, where he argues for every subject in elementary school to be taught in its historical context and process. I’m not sure how that would go, but I certainly encourage anyone to dig, time to time, into the history of things, to uncover their meaning in context

Secondly, I found how important it is to study other people’s work to grow. If you want to write well, you need to read twice as much. And if you want to take good, lucid, interesting photos, you need to learn from the masters. Not only from current photographers (it is too easy to find a photographer these days, but too hard to find one that knows what he or she is doing and why), but also from the painters. It was them who discovered (either mathematically or through trial and error) the rules of composition, golden mean, color balance or emotional charge.

Discover, learn, aw

And that is the true meaning, true reason for this blog to spring into existence. After graduating in journalism, I started another university, this time not that photography or art related. And although I am happy analyzing cultural meanings of symbols through the statistical methods (it doesn’t sound like fun, does it 🙂 , I want to deepen my somewhat shallow relationship with art. I want to remember the name of the artist whose picture I remember, and I want at least try to discover some stories and lessons in their lives.

Well, this is the prospective history of this blog. Wish me luck. Obviously, this blog is not going to give you any shockingly new informations on art. That never was the intention. I want to slowly make a list of really interesting art-related people or significant concepts. There will always be links to my sources and I will finally fully use the books about photography and paintings. I hope we can ponder on some art together – after all, art is here to provoke discussion and imagination. And I plan on having a lot of fun writing this. Hope reading will do the same for you 🙂

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