Featured Photograph – Self portrait as Vermeer’s The Lacemaker

Le photographe d'après Vermeer
Le photographe d'après Vermeer

(original post 10/07/09) Today’s shot is my second attempt at reproducing a classical painting while actualizing the content (the first one is in this post). My contemporary portrait teacher, if you remember, had asked me to shoot a new one, finding little to improve in the first photo. I thought I should go into something softer and a simpler image to contrast with the Rembrandt, and so I looked up the Vermeers and chose La Dentelière (please note that the reproduction I based myself on is darker than the one linked above).

Le photographe première version
Le photographe première version

Although it looks deceptively simple, it took me three times longer to shoot than the complicated Bethsabee set-up and I had to change a few things. Mr. Vermeer certainly took some liberties (to great effect) in regards to the tables’ angles and perspective, and the model’s posture and proportions.  So I chose to place the front table more to the left and adopt a pose more adapted to my rigid upper body (the model, if that really was her pose, must have had an insanely supple neck, major back problems and the narrowest pair of shoulders in all of Netherlands).  And then it was back and forth, shooting and looking at the shot, comparing it to the reproduction, then trying to get it better and to place the light just right on my face (oh and get that soft, self-conscious expression just right). The final image achieved the lighting effect to my liking and, although not completely a copy, recalls the painting quite nicely. I am lit by a large single rectangular softbox to my left and a silver reflector at about 2 feet to my right. ISO 100, 40mm, f/11/160 sec.

10/08/09 — Well, I woke up, looked at the photo produced on the 6th (above in the indent) and decided I could do better. As it often happens on conceptual pieces, and why I always like to do my work ahead of deadlines, I decided to reshoot.  I thought 1) I could get a better positioning, 2) I could get better props and 3) I could do a better job at post. Good thing I had left the set-up as is in my home studio, so I could just go back to it tonight. I did get Benoît to assist me though, so things got faster the second time around. One observation: modelling is a TOUGH job. Although I seem pretty relaxed in the shot, this was extremely uncomfortable – I felt contorted. I had to cheat the fact that the table on which the camera is set is much deeper than the lace table in the original Vermeer painting. So I wasn’t sitting… I was doing a squat for 20 minutes. Ouch. I still did not get it right (I don’t think it’s possible — as I’ve stated above) and had to reposition my head (a little rotation in Free Transform) and change its perspective as well as modify my shoulders in post production using the liquify tool . I also decided to change the colors of the tablecloth at the foreground to emulate the painting. I did so by creating a purple layer (blend mode: hue) and a yellow layer (blend mode: color) and then put complete black masks on both and painted the color back in with a white brush set to about 60%. I then desaturated the wall by about 50% and cloned out sensor spots, an electric outlet, the visible brands and the wooden floor border.  I made the final print on Epson Velvelt art paper. ISO 100, 40mm, f/11/160 sec.

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