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Painters and Their Art As References


Sam Kim
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I'm always curious where people get inspiration. The ASC guys love the masters, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Monet and such.

I like Hopper but I tend to go to films more as references because I'm terrible with names and finding people's works.

What about you? Any personal favorites? Any pieces of work specifically?

 

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Sure, those and many more. It really depends on the look of the movie. I particularly like The Girl With the Pearl Earring for its Vermeer content and look. But I also love the Francis Bacon biopic film Love Is The Devil. As I said, each has its look and it may fit one project better than others. IMHO, being inspired by the quality of the light as represented by specific individual artists (or moments in time, experiences, visions, etc) to fit the mood of and complement whatever project is at hand is really what cinematographers are all about.

Edited by Saul Rodgar
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Jack Cardiff was HUGELY influenced by the Northern Renaissance painters, like Rembrandt, Vermeer, De Hooch, etc. He talks about them to an extant in his marvelous book, "Magic Hour."

 

In fact, he got his start with Technicolor thanks to his knowledge of painting. Technicolor was opening a plant in London, and was looking to hire some local talent to train in their process. As Cardiff waited his turn for the interview, those coming out talked about how tough the questions were, asking about lux and lumens and the law of inverse squares. Cardiff was tired, and had a long drive ahead of him, and wanted to get the interview over with, figuring he had no chance.

 

When he went in, he said off the bat (paraphrased), "I'm not your man. I couldn't tell you anything about the technical stuff. Now if you want to know about painting, I could tell you a few things. That's what I studied to prepare for my work."

 

They gave him a strange look, then asked, "Which side of the face did Rembrandt light?"

 

Cardiff answered correctly, and they went on to talk about the Dutch painters and the Impressionists, and in the end, Cardiff got the job, and it was the beginning of his career! Technicolor went for someone with a background in art, who was able to appreciate light and shadow and color to the extent that Technicolor did.

 

I too love to study the dutch painters for lighting tips, and really favor late 19th century painters like Van Gogh and Seurat on the use of color. I have a huge book with every Van Gogh painting, and I reference it constantly.

 

BR

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Another vote for Rembrandt here. :)

 

I appreciate and try to emulate the sense of "source" and motivation for light in able to pull the subject out from the background while working to have the background drop off and not compete. So often, in what I do now, I am put into situations where I don't have the perfect shooting environment, so the Dutch influence helps me in my approach which I've dubbed "EPK Noir." If I don't want to or shouldn't see something "ugly" in the background, I use light, shadow, and exposure ratios to create a new reality that isn't truly there. It's the difference between "illuminating" and "lighting" even the most mundane shots and I credit artists like Rembrandt for that perspective on the world

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I might be an odd one out, or just showing my own ignorance, but I don't often look towards painters. Sure, I've looked at them, and being in Philadelphia, we have some pretty fantastic collections, but I normally think about moments I've seen in my life. Someone once asked me where I learned the most about lighting, and I honestly said "on the subway," with those sodium vapor lights flashing peoples faces as the train goes past, and looking at how it changes how they look and how I feel about it.

I also get a lot of inspiration from the collection of National Geographics I have and the portraiture you see therein. I really get/got inspiration from wandering around Philadelphia in highschool, middle of the night, middle of the day, etc, just alone with some coffee just watching lights change and looking into windows.

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Sure, those and many more. It really depends on the look of the movie. I particularly like The Girl With the Pearl Earring for its Vermeer content and look. But I also love the Francis Bacon biopic film Love Is The Devil. As I said, each has its look and it may fit one project better than others. IMHO, being inspired by the quality of the light as represented by specific individual artists (or moments in time, experiences, visions, etc) to fit the mood of and complement whatever project is at hand is really what cinematographers are all about.

 

totally agreed. now that i think about it i wish i didn't limit it to painters. i'm curious about inspiration and references in general. :] it's truly pretty fascinating what speaks to people and how they found it or interpret the art.

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  • 4 years later...

I think the painting inspiring cinematography is kinda this overly romanticized thing Alot of the older ASC guys where basically romantics in how they were lighting so it does make a lot of sense though that they would pull from these very romantic works of art. ... I think there is stuff to take from all of it though just the history of how painters of the renaissance started to look at light is very interesting and useful stuff.....But I also think its also just fun and romantic to go look at painting and say so and so inspired such and such shot or asthetic so its really caught on.

 

That said I spend a ton of time at art museums, but I generally not only interested in the "old masters" and the renaissance stuff ....everything is intersting and I think its worth not just looking at how painters are using light, but just a deeper understanding and appreciation of art in general is important if your going to shoot movies....Its the same reason you should read....it helps think about things in different ways.

 

I actually probably spend more time looking at and thinking about contemporary and modern photography then anything....I also am a huge hockney fan although his painting probably wouldn'y be called "cinematic" at all I find it really inspirational actually.

 

 

I am a total sucker for some whistler though ....all his "nocturne" paintings .... beautiful stuff and really pushed me to experiment with underexposure.

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Romanticism is a particular historical style of painting- Friedrich, Delacroix and the like.. Are you sure you mean that?

You can't see Hockney's 60s California stuff without thinking of the pool scene in 'The Graduate'. I don't know who influenced whom.

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Yea I tottaly do, I understand that the renaissance stuff isn't apart of the romantic period in painting and I kinda blocked those things together which probably isnt the best thing to do....I guess I just sum up all of those ideas of incaptualting beauty in kinda straight forward ways as romantic ideas... which I guess technically they are not.

 

That said even though the renaissance birth'd painting "realistically" with perspective and motivated light and all of that, now when you see those painting's they are no longer "realistic" to me they feel pretty exagerated and romantic....the actual period labled "romantic" just took those realistic renaissance ideas and built on them by exagerating things to try to heighten that beauty the renaissance painters were trying to capture.

 

Anyways I would say those older ASC guys (i hate to sum them all up like that but regardless) are pretty romantic....just take like any famous train scene with big shafts of light and the smoke and etc ...those are very heightened images ....the world does not look like that and they are heightening the scene to try to get to a greater thing....so whether they were inspired by rembrant or a painter from the actual romantic period I think it all comes across pretty romanticized.

 

 

never though about hockney with that pool soon, but yea tottaly. hockney is just so great... so funny.

Edited by Albion Hockney
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HAHA, maybe!

 

No I donno...I think this goes back to probably some other posts and I can only speak for myself, but I would say now alot of the younger guys are just more realistic in their romanticism. Speaking for myself again, by that I mean I take into consideration that most people/audiences now are used to those older romantic cinema images and they don't have the same power they once did so now its about grounding something in a little bit more of a reality and then in the right moments subtly getting to a heightend image.

 

I made a post a little bit down about bradford young's work in "Mother of George". I think Bradford Young is great example of someone doing what I explained above there. His images are often some what stylized and I'd say "romantic" ...but at the same time they feel like they could be lit with practicals in a real setting. I think now its kinda like, maybe we don't need all of those big tools and highly stylized images to transport people to a differnt place....maybe it can be more subtle?

 

I donno if thats right or anything, but kinda the way I have been thinking about it, curious to hear your thoughts david. Because again going back to the painting I think there is a ton to take from the renaissance painters and forward to the romantics, impressionists, etc ...but I think just like painters have moved forward to more modern asthetic we as cinematographers can too.

Edited by Albion Hockney
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First of all, speak for yourself when you say that older images from movies don't carry the power they once did.

 

Second, you are painting a lot of people of the past with a very broad brush. Gordon Willis' work in the 1970's is often imitated today by the new "realists" working today.

 

Also, you can take pictures in completely natural light -- for example, a storm clearing over the Rocky Mountains -- and have the results be dramatic, theatrical, romantic -- so does that make them non-realistic?

 

And while I understand, though never shared myself, this tendency among youth over the centuries to question the reverence for the art of the past, don't fall into the trap of thinking therefore that the result of evolution, whether biological or artistic, is that things get better over time.

 

And it's not like painting has become more subtle and realistic over time, so why is it so important that cinematography work towards that goal?

 

Finally, you run the risk of looking foolish by claiming the mantle of achieving greater realism than artists of the past, because each generation always feels that they are achieving greater realism, only to be considered stylized and unnatural by the next generation. One generation's realism looks like artifice to the next.

 

I feel a little like that great scene in "Mr. Turner" in which the critic John Ruskin, in praising J.M.W. Turner's ability to "truthfully" capture nature, also puts down the landscape painters of the past like Claude Lorrain, who was one of Turner's heroes, so the more that Turner is praised in comparison to Lorraine, the more uncomfortable Turner gets, to the point in which he stands up and says says to Ruskin, "So which is better? A ham sandwich or a meat pie?" (I don't remember the actual line but you get Turner's point...)

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I can't imagine what I would have done had I been asked - in some hilarious alternate reality - to shoot Girl with a Pearl Earring.

 

Yes okay fine, the titular painting is actually fairly straightforwardly lit, big soft source, fine, but, er, okay, make everything look like a Vermeer? No pressure.

 

Edit. To wit Caravaggio: china ball? And fake blood.

 

Caravaggio_Judith_Beheading_Holofernes.j

 

P

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I can appreciate the works of the greats like Carravaggio and van Gogh. Modern painters like Frank Franzetta and Basquiat. Movie film art poster painters like Ralph McQuarrie and

Brian Bysouth, these are some of the modern painters that have influence my approach to lighting. Sometimes in abstract ways.

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When Vermeer painted a young girl in contemporary clothes and a modern setting (for him) pouring milk and lit by the natural light from the window next to her... wasn't he essentially being a realist?

 

Sometimes cinematographers study Vermeer or Georges de La Tour not because they are doing some period movie, but because of their realistic representation of a lighting effect.

 

vermeer1.jpg

 

But as I said, painting didn't become more realistic in the current age, so why is the natural progression of cinematography to become more realistic? Isn't it possible that realism is just another style to chose from?

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I'm inspired by all types of paintings - in all sorts of ways - but not in terms of how such might be be translated into photography (by which I also mean cinematography), but in what way photography might approach the concepts explored by painting, but in it's own particular way.

 

Certainly there is a lot of technical cross-talk - the emerging sophistication with respect to perspective in Renaissance art, interlocks with a growing mathematical formalisation of optics at that time, and out of which, with necessary contributions from alchemy, photography and cinema can be understood as owing a debt. But does it owe it's genius?

 

Many films will try to locate themselves within this history, but in a way to suggest that photography only echoes such origins rather than births a new concept. As if photography were no more than painting by other means. This idea ran like a virus through many discussions at the time of photography's invention.

 

"Painting is dead", many believed.

 

As if photography had arrived to perfect the art of painting. In this concept is compromised both the furture of painting and the future of photography. Fortunately it was only brief.

 

If anything died it was only a particular type of painting - one that pretended to be photographic. The photograph arrives to put such paintings in question. The evidence of photography makes it obvious that painting is nothing like photography, and vice versa. Exceptions (that prove the rule) occur in works such as those by Chuck Close.

 

CLOSE_Bob.jpg

 

Painting is liberated from it's attempts to simulate photography.

 

And photography, for it's part, after some initial stupidity, is liberated from any pretence at being a particular type of painting.

 

Cross talk can take place in another more useful way - where it's not some attempt to reduce everything down to some universal interlocking system of concepts, but where the differences between painting and photography, as much as technical common ground, can be exploited.

 

I particular enjoy the pointillist experiments in painting - where it borrows some technical ideas in photography and applies that to non-photographic imagery:

Seurat-La_Parade_detail.jpg

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I'm fond of many periods and trends in both painting and photography, I tend to avoid rating one superior to another. One of my favorite eras of photography is Pictorialism, when photographs tried to mimic the fine arts of painting and drawings. Sure, it led to the great work of Group f/64 in rejection of Pictorialism, but viewed today, those earlier photographs have an evocative power in their use of light and shadow combined with diffusion in an attempt to achieve a "painterly" effect. For example, this photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn:

 

coburn1.jpg

 

And I've always been drawn to movies that find a way to justify less strictly realistic images, employing techniques of abstraction or diffusion for a more graphic and less representational look. Even a consistent realist like Roger Deakins isn't beyond image manipulation such as the use of crude optics in "Assassination of Jesse James" to suggest early photography or the color-alterations of "O Brother Where Art Thou?"

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I posted these before in another thread, but I've always been fascinated by movies that imitate paintings, often in a movie about that painter, but also because of the associations of that painting with the period of the movie:

 

Henry V

paintinglike1.jpg

 

Moulin Rouge

paintinglike2.jpg

 

The Taming of the Shrew

paintinglike3.jpg

 

Jesus of Nazareth

paintinglike4.jpg

 

I've always been a bit suspect of the notion that the highest aspiration of art should be a realistic representation of reality.

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Yes, from our avantage point today we can return to previous ideas and re-energise them in a different context with a different agenda.

 

Today we're in a much more complex position, able to go back over a certain history and recontextualise it - using new ideas, very powerful digital tools, complex mathematical concepts, retrospective insights, etc. Be it to exploit the past, or rewrite it, or reconstruct it, or restart it, or reinvent it ...

 

Whether any insight into art/history itself occurs is a different story ...

 

 

Blue_Poles_%28Jackson_Pollock_painting%2

 


C

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  • Tim Tyler changed the title to Painters and Their Art As References

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