Pictorialism with digital noise


Greg Neville, Central Victoria Road, 2015


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This image was taken on a Canon G10, a high-end compact camera that has a tiny 5x7mm sensor. At full zoom, the camera is interpolating the information and the result is this soft, noisy result. The digital noise, in this case at least, creates a pointillist effect, like an Impressionist painting or a Pictorialist photograph made on the Autochrome colour process.


Autochrome photograph by unknown photographer, ‘Claude Monet outside his house at Giverny’, 1921.

Autochrome was the first commercial colour photography process, invented by the Lumiere brothers who also just happen to invent cinema. It was first marketed in 1907 and was taken up by some of the leading Pictorial photographers, Edward Steichen, Arnold Genthe and others.

The medium consists of a glass plate coated on one side with a random mosaic of microscopic grains of potato starch dyed red-orange, green, and blue-violet which act as color filters. Lampblack fills the spaces between grains, and a black-and-white panchromatic silver halide emulsion is coated on top of the filter layer. (Wikipedia)


Meyerowitz does Morandi


Joel Meyerowitz, from Morandi’s Objects, 2015

Joel Meyerowitz has been photographing the objects that Giorgio Morandi painted in his studio for many decades.

Morandi was one of Italy’s most celebrated 20th century artists, known for his subdued, contemplative still life paintings. The same objects appeared over and over in different arrangements, in a body of mainly small works that is revered throughout the art world.

Meyerowitz was granted two days access to the props in Morandi’s studio in Bologna, which is now a museum. He photographed 277 of them on the same bench and against the same paper background the painter used until his death in 1964.

Meyerowitz is known for his street photography and for his pioneering using of colour, so making still lifes in a narrow range of muted earth-tones must have been a new challenge for the 77 year old photographer.


“Meyerowitz worked at Morandi’s table, where the light still falls, as it always has, on the circles and lines the painter drew to mark the positions of his objects. The background remains as Morandi left it, a pale, rosy golden paper that is brittle and ready to crumble at the slightest touch.”


While it’s clear the photographer was not trying to do what the painter did, the project does provide an opportunity to compare the two mediums: what does photography do and what does painting do?


Giorgio Morandi, Still Life 1957

The exhibition of Meyerowitz photographs, Morandi’s Objects, is at Spazio Damiani, a new gallery for contemporary photography in Bologna.


Maurizio Anzeri


Maurizio Anzeri, Edith, 2011

There is a small but noticeable trend amongst photo artists to use vintage photographs as a canvas for new work. Old studio portraits, actors’ publicity shots, cartes-de-visites and collectable postcards are getting a going-over with paintbrush, pencil and needle-and-cotton.

Tom Butler and Julie Cockburn add strange markings on 19th century faces and even veteran photographer Duane Michals has been painting cubistic designs to the faces in old portraits.

London-based Maurizio Anzeri applies embroidery to his found portrait photos combining complex colourful patterns with warm-toned studio portraits.

Maurizio Anzeri makes his portraits by sewing directly into found vintage photographs. His embroidered patterns garnish the figures like elaborate costumes, but also suggest a psychological aura, as if revealing the person’s thoughts or feelings.

This amusing video shows how he does it.


Maurizio Anzeri, Penny 2012


Maurizio Anzeri, Nicola, 2011

James Dean at Times Square


Poster for Life, the 2015 movie directed by Anton Corbijn

Life is a new biographical movie based on the friendship of Life magazine photographer Dennis Stock and Hollywood actor James Dean. It stars Robert Pattinson as Stock and Dane DeHaan as Dean and film was directed by Anton Corbijn who is himself a well known still photographer.

Dennis Stock was a noted Magnum photographer during the 1950s and 60s, best known for his iconic Times Square photo of Dean as Beat Generation anti-hero. The poster shows Dean and Stock walking side by side, with the letters IF isolated from the film title. This may refer to the ‘if’ of Dean’s future acting career, had he lived. He was killed in a car accident at age 24 a few months after the photo was taken.


Screenshot from trailer of Life, 2015


Dennis Stock, James Dean at Times Square, print from the Magnum archive.

Stock seems to have under-exposed his photo, you can see how black the shadows are. Look at the print below with Magnum’s darkroom printer Pablo Inirio‘s burning and dodging notations. It takes a lot to turn a mere shot into an icon.


Photograph by Dennis Stock with printing annotations by Pablo Inirio

The movie has opened in Europe in to positive reviews, and will open in the US in December. No newas yet of an Australian release date.

Perspective of Nudes

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Perspective of Nudes by Bill Brandt, published in 1961

Bill Brandt”s 1961 Perspective of Nudes is a landmark photo book, rare today and fetching high prices on the vintage book market, one recently sold for $1200. It was finely printed in heliogravure, the oldest procedure for reproducing photographic images, and rare in publishing after the 1940s.

Published in the UK by The Bodley Head, (the publishing house that Penguin Books grew out of) it presents 90 black & white nudes distorted by the unusual cameras Brandt used. The beach exteriors were taken with a Hasselblad Super-Wide, and interiors were taken with the unusual Kodak Wide Angle Camera – see my previous post.

The Photobook: A History states that Brandt “rewrote the language of nude photography in not one, but several quarters … they are as interesting for their psychological undertones as for the wealth of unexpected forms he conjured.

Brandt acknowledged a debt to the wide angle, deep focus cinematography of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. His lenses stretch the figures into sculptural shapes, partlly abstract, and reminiscent of the contemporaneous sculptures of Jean Arp and Henry Moore.

“Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.”

You can see more pages from the book on Josef Chaldek’s photo book site