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Saturday, 03 January 2009


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"At least if you've studied art history." Or spent any time in the Netherlands. living here in The Hague I seem surrounded by the Dutch Masters.
The first thing that sprang to mind seeing this was "Vermeer copy" and I had to do a double take at the bonnet.

When I saw this photograph I had a moment of confusion - I'd seen this somewhere recently. Then I noticed the comment that this was in the National Portrait Gallery (London), where I'd seen it as part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, 2008 exhibition. Given the content of recent posts, I can't help be amused that the exhibition above is only a few paces from "Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005", although the latter charges for entry while the former does not.

Good one, Mike.

Or to mess with Freud; sometimes a bag isn't.


A spectacularly beautiful print in real life too. The jpeg doesn't even start to do it justice.

Vanessa Winship's wonderful picture also came 2nd, while a particularly silly montage inexplicably won.

Yes, my reaction to the winning entry was also "huh?"

Next year I really must get an entry in myself, I procrastinated enough this year that I missed the entry date. And now of course I can't use that photo any more. I guess I'll have to try to take another good one.

The entire exhibition of the Taylor Wessing prize was interesting and stimulating- in marked contrast to the Leibovitz, which was really drab and arid, IMHO.

Usually, the concept or idea is as important as how it is showed and explained, as it is the vehicle to show the concept behind. The thing here is that Mr. Kerstens does visually convince about a message.

This picture, in particular, is a three times winner.

It stood out clearly in the exhibition [which is definitely NOT to miss]. There are some stunning pictures, but on here the whole image is set apart from the "magnum-esque" portratis on one hand, and the "soft-and-dreamy" portraits. Its visual treatment [light, composition, and subject] is far away from all the rest.

The very second thing is that it is simple, yet complex [there, an oxymoron]. You are drown to a picture, and then start to think and analyze it [as many comments said, people realize at a second stage that it is a plastic bag]. It does have a two step reading process.

Finally, it doesn´t need a written explanation. And that does prove its success for the general public [which is a good thing]. You don´t need to read the caption to read the picture. As simple as it is, that does not happen nor with the winner, nor with the fourth and special award recipents.

I immediately saw a lady with a plastic shopping bag on her head.

It didn't strike me as amusing, or ironic, or anything like that.

In fact, my reaction was "someone's trying to make some sort of arty statement and it's falling flat."

Hi Mike,

Speaking of studying art history, any recommendations on a good text? I am thinking of Janson's History of Art. I will, of course, purchase using your links as I always do.


Inaki: I think I have to disagree. You have to recognize the lighting and the head-dress shape to get one part of the joke, and perhaps know the photographer is from NL to get another aspect of it. So this will work for people familiar with classic images, but not for the broader public particularly, I don't think.

I have to admit I think it's pretty amusing, and I'm only marginally literate in classic images, so maybe I'm being overly pessimistic. Possibly the people who might see a modern art photograph in the first place all know enough to appreciate it (and they're the "public" it's addressed to).

For those who want it:
the ñ letter can be typed entering alt+164 at any western keyboard.

; P

[I know, it is not really convenient).

One of the best approaches to History of Art I´ve ever encountered [a MUST, in my opinion] is the "History of Art" by Ernst H. Gombrich, which you can buy from Amazon, I guess.

What did amaze me from the begining is the non affectionate approach done to the art by the author [regardless of his preferences].

All in all, I´d recommend it over most of the classical history of art literature, including Spiro Kostoff.

When I wrote the above stuff, I did carefully chose my words [heaven preseve us for that]. I did the "oh-so-innovative" -caution, irony- "the-mother-in-law-test-for-visual-response"® -caution, not irony-.

Classic images [no matter the style they follow] are classic because of a reason. They stay in the unconcious because of that something which is very, very specific to that image -be it architecture, product, photography, whatever you want-.

Thing is, in that exhibition, this image was one of the "mother-in-law-test-for-visual-response"® winners: the one who didn´t have to be explained but after 20 minutes of staring at it.

In stark contrast with the NYC style harsh photography [strongly based in the smashing guts effect], this and the smiling picture of Steve McQueen got "best score" in that test.

Were I be judging this image with no history of art background, I´d be drowned to the fact that it was -and still is- the most honestly staged portrait of the collection shown at the NPG. It is not trying so hard as to break that magical moment that happens when photographing a model a tenth of a second BEFORE AND AFTER taking a shot [never, never within the shot].

Regarding Craig's featured comment, the very large [backlit] print of this photo in the show is the one that greets you as you walk down the corridor to the exhibition, and is part of the entry display made by the gallery, not the actual print in the show. I guess they made that because this photo was aslo chosen to go on the cover of the catalogue, so is part of the branding for the exhibition.

The actual print is fairly small (a little bigger than 8x10 or so, I can't exactly remember). I much preferred the photographer's actual print.


Thanks Inaki. I have been meaning to ask that question for a long time. Assume you meant "The Story of Art" since that's all I could find.


Thanks Chris.

What actually happened is that English is not my mother tongue -regardless the proficiency I´d have achieved along the years-. And English is the only language I can write/speak that does the distinction between story and history for a narrative fiction reporting a chain of events versus a factual report of events.

In a nutshell: yep, what I meant was "The Story of Art".

[That AND the fact Word dynamic typing correction feature and dictionary have rotten and corrupted any orthography knowledge I could have gathered].

Thing is, take into account it will give you just a hint about the history of art. In my opinion, apart from reading, the best thing you can do to better start grasping what the history of art is to visit your closest museum, and asking there.

You can read essays and books by Kandinsky, Frampton, Rowe, Saavedra, Borges, Curtis, Morris, the Secession, Vitrubio, Cellini, Bellini, Bernini, Capability Brown -yep, there was a landscapist with that name in England around the 18th century-; whoever you might like to read about.

Specialty books, long and heavy encyclopedias about art; the very best way to learn about it is to see and watch art, and get a grip on it.

Finally, do not forget something: until the late 18th century [around Goya, more or less], art still had the need not only to be close to reality or to tell a fact; it was a learning-teaching tool [church icons] AND a form of official documentation [the famous Arnolfini Portrait -on display at the National Gallery of Art, Trafalgar Square- is one of the best examples for that].

Actually, most of the religious art -regardless the religion- is conceptually more advanced and outrageous than current "avantgarde" art.

But for that, ask the bearded grumpy ol´man who host this site [ : )].





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