Part 1. Discuss a photograph that takes an existing work of art as its starting point. Write a 500- word reflection on your chosen piece in your learning log.
I have chosen the work of Freddy Fabris for this exercise. I first encountered Fabris’ work in the form of his Renaissance series and his reworking of ‘The Lamentation of Christ’ (Giotto, c 1305). For this exercise, however, I chose instead ‘The Anatomy Lesson’ which again is an appropriation and reworking of an oil painting ‘The Anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp’ (Rembrandt, 1632) which I was lucky to see in exhibition in Edinburgh in 2019.
Fabris has transplanted the anatomy lesson, taking it from the Dutch anatomy classroom, to the American Midwest garage workshop. Fabris, in wanting ‘to take them out of their original context, yet maintain their essence’, has kept the lighting as close to Rembrandt’s painting as possible, whilst still making the subjects visible and distinctive.
The leader of the surgeons is now the head mechanic and the surgeons surrounding the corpse are the mechanics which he is leading in anatomy discussion. Fabris has cleverly carried the narrative that these groups are both skilled engineers in the field of moving parts, the body of the criminal replaced with a clutch box and a skilful arrangement of tools. Both groups are clearly defined by their white tops over their overalls, which are dark enough to allow them to blend into the shadowed edges of the scene, the surgical manuscript replaced with a dank and mouldering phonebook.
I am very interested in the work of Fabris, especially this piece, which I feel has managed to take the close and cramped composition of the scene of surgeons in lesson and kept the subject matter to within an appropriate range, that of movement, engineering and the ‘spark of life’. The subjects within the photograph all have their distinctive appearances and Fabris chosen to replicate the differing gaze and eyelines of the original painting subjects. The photograph reflects the idea of the subjects deep in thought as they contemplate the lesson and discussion and how it fits into their own learning. Fabris has even kept the one subject who looks out of the scene straight at the viewer, although unlike the painting it appears to me as if the subject is looking slightly over to the left of the viewers ear, which gives the impression that he was surprised to find himself being photographed. This introduces a bit of cognitive dissonance for me, as I try to work out whether he was trying to avoid looking straight into the lens or if he was looking at Fabris or an assistant of Fabris who happened to be on the left hand side of the camera. For me, this breaks the spell and I start to search the images for other things to examine. In doing so, has Fabris accidentally made me the anatomist, as I surgically scour the image studying it in depth?
I did notice that Fabris did not include the tome and stand from the original painting which would probably have been a medical manuscript that one or more of the subjects would have been glancing to for reference, instead the car mechanics are looking off into the distance in reflection. In some ways the missing items cause me to pause and wonder why they were excluded.
The overall concept of linking surgeons, who are considered highly skilled practitioners with god like skills to what some people consider low skilled car mechanics who perform mechanical work because they lack education for finer skilled work. Fabris’ image flattens the playing field showing that the mechanics are just as skilled as the surgeons and that they also need an understanding of the anatomy of their subjects if they are to keep them alive.
Fabris, Freddy. “Fabris Photography | OVERVIEW | 9.” Fabris Photography, 2017, http://www.fabrisphoto.com/OVERVIEW/9/caption. Accessed 6 Aug. 2020.
—. “Fabris Photography | Renaissance | 2.” Fabris Photography, 2017, http://www.fabrisphoto.com/SERIES/Renaissance/2/thumbs-caption. Accessed 6 Aug. 2020.
Super User. “Looking at a Masterpiece: The Lamentation of Christ.” Catholiceducation.Org, 2014, http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/art/looking-at-a-masterpiece-the-lamentation-of-christ.html.
Part 2. Next, re-make an existing work of art using photography
After looking at a few ideas, including several still life paintings, I chose to focus on Oscar Rejlander, The Juggler as Rejlander whose image was stunning when produced in 1865 is now I feel overlooked mainly due to the fact that we can now replicate the image in camera due to faster lenses and faster shutter speeds.
I worked from the basis of a reference photograph of the chair in the background. I then took another shot of myself in pose. I then took a number of photographs of an apple suspended in the air using thread and a wooden stick. I moved then moved the apple around so that I could obtain shots of the apple in differing positions as I felt the light on the apple had to be consistent with the position of the apple.
I then layered the images in photoshop and using masks, picked out the small parts of the layers that I wanted sitting on top of the posed image resulting in a reworking of Rejlanders original.
This part of the exercise was very enjoyable as I was able to start to get to grips with masks and their usage in Adobe Photoshop. Up until now I have not really used masks so this was good opportunity to learn.
Museum, VA. “The Juggler | Rejlander, Oscar Gustav | V&A Search the Collections.” V and A Collections, V and A Museum, 10 Aug. 2020, collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1410694/the-juggler-photograph-rejlander-oscar-gustav/. Accessed 10 Aug. 2020.