Brief

Taking the photography of Mann, Atget or Schmidt or a photographer of your own choosing as your starting point, shoot a number of photographs exploring the quality of natural light. The exercise should be done in manual mode and the important thing is to observe the light, not just photograph it. In your learning log, and using the descriptions above as your starting point, try to describe the quality of the light in your photographs in own words.

Initial thoughts and inspiration

When thinking about light and the chase to the ultimate kind, I always have only one artist in mind: Vincent van Gogh. Coming from the dark, grey, clay, water and flat Dutch light and environment, he chased the ultimate light for the rest of his career in Southern France. Crisp, bright, floral, clear. living partially in southern Spain myself, indeed, the light in Southern Europe is definitely different and inspiring, although I think inspiration is always found in unfamiliar environments, opposite direction in inspirational light is to be seen in the work from Picasso he made in Holland, coming from the southern light into the light Van Gogh tried to escape. Another exponent when speaking of light to me remains Rembrandt. I can not think of any photographer capable of depicting light in such a striking and almost enchanting manner as this master painter. Going back to photography, it seems easy to follow or chase the light. Shadows, highlights, contrast, colourfull are key in photography, human vision is attracted to by instinct to these characteristics. Especially in contemporary photography, using flash, hard contrast, strong colours in the race for more visual impact, even harder contrast, heavier imaging, related probably to the immunization of images, I could, again, not withhold my thoughts in finding settings with the opposite and therefore the lack of light and contrast.

 

My initial thoughts are sea/shore/sky with minimal light/contrast/tones, diffuse, flat, dull even if you want, landscapes, preferably with evenly but heavy overcast sky, hopefully, some mist to enhance the absence of light even more? Cannot predict mist though. Another fascinating “light” spectacle to me is water wrinkles. The ever-changing wrinkling in the Amsterdam canals, with their grey/black and dark silver, hypnotising, different by the hour, sometimes in beautiful cadence and rhythm, sometimes rough and chaotic. Although, Van Gogh might not be the best example in subdued imaging in this context.

Vincent van Gogh – Drenthe, Netherlands, Northern Light

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Vincent van Gogh – Arles, France, Southern Light

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All images at Vangoghmuseum.nl. (2019). Visit the museum about Vincent van Gogh in Amsterdam – The Netherlands – Van Gogh Museum. [online] Available at: https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

Ongoing thoughts, living in Amsterdam, the city is never far. Neither is Breitner with his dark, almost photographic painting of typical Dutch scenes in typical dutch light. earthly tones, low-light, dark and watery, always a striking atmosphere in photographic compositions, almost like framing.

 

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Images at Gemeente Amsterdam (2019). Breitner: bezeten schilder van de stad. [online] Amsterdam.nl. Available at: https://www.amsterdam.nl/nieuws/achtergrond/bezeten-schilder/ [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

Another great inspiration for me in this context is the painter Joseph Israels, with sober, restrained paintings of everyday Dutch life, but also known for his stunning use of chiaroscuro in his paintings, sometimes even compared to that of Rembrandt, according to the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

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Images at Rijksmuseum. (2019). Jozef Israëls – Artists – Rijksstudio – Rijksmuseum. [online] Available at: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio/artists/jozef-israels [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

Funny to see in my WP media library, how nice these images match, and indeed, Alex Prager (see my other post) uses light brilliantly, although her work is mostly staged or studio and perhaps more related to exercise 4.2

 

‌Research

I prefer black and white photography because it guarantees the viewer a maximum amount of neutrality within the limits of the medium. It reduces and neutralizes the coloured world to a finely nuanced range of greys, thus precluding an individual way of seeing (personal colour tastes) by the viewer. This means that the viewer is able to form an objective opinion about the image from a neutral standpoint independent of his subjective colour perception. He is thus not emotionally distracted.

In order to achieve a maximum of objectivity and thus create a photograph which possesses credibility and authenticity as a document (factual information), I prefer to work with neutral diffused light, i.e. to produce an image without noticeable shadows. The viewer must allow the objects portrayed in the photograph to take their effect upon him without being distracted by shadows or other mood effects. In this context, it is essential that the viewer should be able to recognize the depicted objects clearly and in relation to each other.(amer4127, 2010)

This paragraph from the interview with Michael Schmidt: “Thoughts About My Way of Working” (1979)(amer4127, 2010) comes very close to how I felt and thought at the start of this exercise and this project 4.

The early work of Eugene Atget indeed seems to use a different light later in his work, however, looking at the examples given and scrolling through his work at The Museum of Modern Art. (2017). Eugène Atget. [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/artists/229?locale=en [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020]. it is not that clear me as the quote in the course want’s me to believe. To me Atget seems to avoid shadows in the majority of his work, throughout his career, either by diffuse light or time of day, perhaps just take

‌Below a selection of the mentioned images in the quote.

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Reading the short biography: Biography and Early Career of Eugene Atget (2006). and according the quoted Bearnice Abott:

Atget never abandoned his first equipment, carrying it all over Paris and its suburbs. The technique for making negatives and prints that Atget initially used remained constant throughout his life.

amer4127 (2011). Biography and Early Career of Eugene Atget (2006). [online] AMERICAN SUBURB X. Available at: https://americansuburbx.com/2011/11/eugene-atget-biography-and-early-career-of-eugene-atget.html [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

Fascinating that throughout his career, over a period of almost 40 years, in the mids of the photographic revolution, where everything changed, technically, artistically and socially, he never changed a thing, not in his equipment, materials and not even his subjects. Perhaps the only thing indeed he did change, was the time of day he preferred to photograph, but again, with a minor effective change in his work.

 

Execution

Exercise 4.1 was immediately my favourite to be continued as an assignment, although I did not want to make that decision final at the beginning. I know myself good enough to wait and see how things develop, always living by the motto: Planning is Guessing.

When thinking about natural light in Holland, I see water, grey skies, flat land and sea, all tones of grey in horizontal layers, colourless colours. How different from our life in Spain, with its intense brightness, blistering sunpower, desert-dry land, clean, crisp hot air and sunbleached colours and pastels. It is true, southern light is different.

I could not have a better visual comparison than the exhibition Rembrandt-Velázquez, Dutch & Spanish Masters. Dialogues on reality and eternity, religion and beauty.(Rijksmuseum.nl, 2019). Side-by-side (literally) the Dutch and Spanish 17th-century masters of light. In everything, they differed but equally, they are so comparable. Catholic Spain opposed the Protestant Republic of The Netherlands, The Spanish Monarchy opposed the Dutch republic of people and of course the light. The bright and colourful, religious splendour of Velázquez opposed the subdued nuances in shadows and light in the ordinary of Rembrandt. In every painting, you see how they mastered the light and how differently they interpreted the tones and atmosphere into their paintings.

My tutor suggested the book “Waffenruhe” by Michael Schmidt (Schmidt et al., 2018). His work is not specifically about light but it is a perfect interpretation and depiction of atmosphere. The closing text by Janos Frecot is stunningly applicable and translates the breathtaking and silently loaded images in words wonderfully and serene:

Krein Krieg, kein Frieden, doch immerhin Ruhe, ein äuβerst reizbares Schweigen am Rande des Schmerzes, in Erwarlung jäh ausbrechender Feindschaft, Abklingen der Narkose, langsames Erwachen, lange, über Jahre wird das dauern; während der Schmerz sich verwandelt in Trauer, die offenen Wunden sich schlieβen, vernarben zu Erinnerungen an schlimme Zeiten kalter Enthäutung.
Krieg, Zerstörung, Tod. Scheidung, Trennung, Verstümmelung, Selbstmord, Ruinen, Gräber, Zäune, Rost und Beton. Mauern, Erstarrung, sprachlose Stumpfheit. (Schmidt et al., 2018)

Strangely, this specific book changed my direction. Visualize the emotion of the milieu, try to grasp the load of history on the scenery and depict in the light as the tonality of the mood and source of interpretation.

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After a short series on water, this new from insight from “Waffenruhe” brought me to the winter-deserted beach villages on the North-Sea coast of Holland. Knowing the typical Dutch grey would flatten everything. A firm Seawind over the beach blows off the last few visitors in this watery cold, abandoned area. Traces of overcrowded summer sceneries are still visible and bring to memory the images of New Brighton by Martin Parr (Parr and Badger, 2018). How seasons and light can change everything. An almost depressing desolation. Nothing indicates its temporality. A sadness of poverty during the winter seems to last from now on.

Zandvoort aan Zee, North-Holland, North Sea Coast. The last German tourists left the beach already in August. It’s too cold and too windy now even to blow out on the beach with the dog on those regular Sunday mornings. Only a few brave remain, perseveringly bent against the wind. The fried fish stalls are open though, waiting and hoping all day for a lost customer. Some scarcely leftovers of cheerful children colours seem awkwardly misplaced in the landscape were grey sets the tone so suitable. The light is strangely diffuse. There is no sun, there are hardly clouds, there is just a blanket of grey and that cold continues propulsive wind. It sweeps the sand over the beach, softening the last bits of contrast like a brush. It tastes salty, the skin tightens from the cold, could be my tears, could be the sea. Everything fades into a weird serenity of desertion and past happiness, what a beautiful light.

In a search for desolate, gray Dutch winter light, I’ve waited for a suitable day to visit another coastal city; Den Helder. A small town at the absolute north of North-Holland. Den Helder, a major Dutch Navy base. The Roayle Dutch Navy is minimised and time left his mark. Large part of the navy base is closed and the thousands of marines and staff left the service or where relocated  with their families. What remains is an almost soulless city with very specific problems. One can only imagine how the bustling life once used to be in this town. Some long-closed bars are the silent witnesses. Surrounded by water at three sides already, the massive north-sea dyke blocking the view over sea isolates the place even more. The old navy buildings still remain for further disconsolate decay. The winter gray intensifies this isolated atmosphere of faded glory and desolation.

 

Selected Images

As suggested in the course, this exercise is taken into account to be promoted to the assignment 4. Therefore I granted myself the luxury to include slightly more images than needed, although in the exercise brief no specific amount is mentioned. All shot with my Leica 28mm, not only for his quality but in this case for its superb weather-sealing, an essential characteristic for a camera on the Dutch shore during winter.

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