2020 was going to be the year I’d invite you to the Amsterdam Picture Room, to exhibit new work by friends and colleagues, and to maybe even start a modest set of talks and mini courses on various photo-related subjects.
Ah, yes, well. Communal change of plans. For the time being, I hope to share with you some thoughts on photographs and artworks that hold a special place in my heart, that I’ve found to be interesting with regards to photography.
Please join me on these blog-like pages to enjoy a pretty random but lovingly selected collection of images. By the way, here’s a disclaimer: I’m not an art historian, but a photographer with a greater-than-average interest in art history and many years of teaching photography students about it.
I of course HAVE to start with a ballet dancer (having danced professionally). This is a photo taken by Edgar Degas in 1895 or ’96. I’d like to think he took it in the wings of the theater, but that’s not the case. He used to organise photographic evenings, where he invited friends to come over to dine and to model for his carefully staged pictures. He particularly enjoyed working with artificial light. Amazing – that makes things extra difficult even today, let alone in the 1890s! Although he was known to use photographs as an aide to his paintings, he started using them as an artform in it’s own right when his eyesight was going andapparently became quite enthralled. Only about 40 of the photos have remained.
My relationship with Degas is strained to say the least. As a little girl, besotted with ballet, I grew up with his images of ballet dancers. Later I became fascinated by his pastels of bathing women – so intimate, so sensuous. His blurred, beautiful photos, and the way he uses the shortcomings of the technique to his advantage, are a continuous inspiration.
The man was a notorious anti-semite, a chauvinist pig, a misogynist. A jerk basically.
This is something I’m still trying to get my head around – not only concerning Degas, but in general. How does what you know about an artist influence your appreciation, your perception? To what extent can you see his or her character in the work? What sense or nonsense does the viewer project? Can you fall in love with, or turn against, the artist?
I will have to come back to you on this extremely confusing subject.
Degas used to make his models absolutely miserable, and he was fully aware of it. He intentionally depicted them in awkward poses, striving to undo their coquettishness – his words.