Actually I wasn’t planning on blogging about my own work. But my ever-supportive husband said: “You are starting a new project, if not now, when?” So here goes.

First, a quick introduction. Last autumn I went to Venice, on my own, for a month. I wanted to do a photo series about a 17th century poetess, Sarra Copia Sullam. I still do, but for now the plan is on hold, because I came across two other projects – women – that need to come first. I met these women in November, one is a stunningly beautiful prostitute with a grueling past, the other a small girl. I’m going to start with her. This is the story:

My first time on the Canal Grande, I saw a little girl in a porta d’aqua, comforting another girl. They weren’t really there, I knew that, but still. I saw her again and again, that little comforter, and I just knew it: she exists. For sure.

Three years later I was back, still thinking of the little girl. And then I found her.

Her name was Giuseppina Gabriel Carmelo. On November 29th, 1904 she lost her life in a boating accident. Together with a group of women, she was in a gondola that was hit by a vaporetto, late at night and in dense fog, somewhere between Murano and San Michele. Eventually the bodies of all the women were found, but not that of Giuseppina. However, some foggy nights you can see a small coffin floating on the water, with four burning candles on it’s corners. That way Giuseppina warns and protects the boats that need to be out on the lagoon under harsh circumstances. She will bring solace and aid to everyone who needs it in Venice.

My head is spinning as I read Giuseppina’s story. There she is! You can find her in every anthology of Venetian ghost stories. The inhabitants of La Serenissima boast that they have more scary legends than any place else in the world. Some are really hair raising and actually I don’t feel my little girl belongs there. Anyway. I want to shoot backgrounds, so that I can later add a model – my usual work method. But this trip, and these projects, run far from smoothly (neither do I by the way, I’m sporting a crutch due to an injured achilles tendon). I will spare you the details.

And then came November 12th 2019. The worst flood in 53 years. It was absolutely horrific and it stank like hell. The fridge of the girl downstairs filled with sewer water, the lady from upstairs came to the rescue and I babysat for her sleeping child. Orchestrated by Giuseppina probably.

Back in Amsterdam the images enter my head. I’m missing a few backgrounds, but that’s ok, I’ll be going back soon anyway. Or so I thought. I crash with my bike, bruise a rib, all of a sudden there’s this frightening virus in the Veneto. I stay home, lock down, and brood. At last I ask Yona Hartogs (a nine-year old Julia Roberts) to model for me. Luckily she and her Mom agree. I style and sew, costumes and hats, get in the car to drive to their house – battery dead. Ok, the jinx apparently isn’t quite gone yet, but hey, onwards and upwards!


1 Hier is het gebeurd.jpg

The mooring at San Michele, the cemetery island. In the background is Murano, so this has to be close to the spot where the accident happened.


2 Casa Willink

Stunning house on the north lagoon, overlooking The Spot. It seems a serenely magical place, but I believe it is a party venue.


3 NW meneer.jpg

This is the north-west tip of Venice, not many people know this corner of the city. The houses are mostly new builds, although you hardly notice that. It is a very residential, totally adorable area. I only got to know it because my Italian lessons were there ( – highly recommended).


4 cute grachtje

It doesn’t get more Venetian than this. All the elements are there: a canal, boats, the ‘altana’ – the roof terrace where the women used to lighten their hair in the sun, after dousing it in urine. There’s a ‘porta d’aqua’, the water door (this one has that typically Venetian pointed frame), the wrought iron window grills there on the left . . . mmmmm, beautiful.


5 meerpaal.jpg

A collapsed mooring pole (is that what you call it in English?). Yeah, they fall over, too. A month later it was still lying there. This, by the way, is also the spot where I dropped my crutch in the water. Swiftly grabbed it, saving it from the poop! (Parts of the sewage still end up in the canals. You get a €600 fine when you jump in.)


6 Campiello onder water

And then the water came. It was horrible. Really really frightening. The sound of the sirens – four, highest state of alarm – will ring in my ears forever. These shots are from the next day, when the worst was very much over. I’m curious to see if Giuseppina will appear on the scene, there is a lot to be done.

8 de gang the morning after.jpg

Our dark hallway. No electricity.

8 the morning after. what a mess

Two days later, low tide. The clean-up can begin.


I will give an update every now and then, watch this space.


The queen, the prince and the photo’s


On paper it was highly unlikely that young princess Victoria, born in 1819, would become queen. But every male heir to the throne died so there she was, at eighteen, reigning over the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. She would do so for nearly 64 years, acquiring an empire as she went along. Her story, and that of the era that carries her name, is really quite extraordinary, and way too extensive for me to even begin to tell here. Luckily the internet is full, chock-a-block, with articles about her, so I can concentrate on these bits, pieces and photographs.

Victoria’s mother had installed a ridiculously strict plan for her upbringing known as the Kensington System. The kid couldn’t move. Literally – she wasn’t even allowed to walk down the stairs without someone holding her hand. Her mother slept in her room, right until Victoria became queen on her eighteenth birthday. The story goes that she kicked Mutti out of the room that very day. For her own sake and that of the nation, a husband was needed. She fell madly in love with her German cousin Albert, and on February 10th 1840 they got married. Victoria wore white, which wasn’t the custom at the time, but she set a trend and we never looked back.

Today we consider the Victorian era the stiffest, stuffiest, uptight period ever, but Victoria and Albert were horny little monkeys – they have nine children to prove it. As far as state affairs go, it seems that Albert hated playing second fiddle, and tried to make his mark as much as he could. At home he instilled a very strict regime for the upbringing of the children. When Bertie, the Prince of Wales and later king Edward VII was a student, the story unfolded that the lad had slept with an Irish actress. Oh, the shame! Albert immediately travelled to Cambridge to set his son straight. After his return, he became very ill and died, aged just 41. Victoria was inconsolable, blaming her oldest son for her husband’s death. She went into mourning and never came out of it, dressed in black for the rest of her long life.

Victoria is the first monarch to be photographed. She and Albert absolutely embraced it, enjoying the newness and modernity of it. They were great patrons of the arts in general, often paying artists an annual salary. Both were keen artists themselves, too.

1. Queen-Victoria-Prince-Albert wedding 1840

Wedding photo, 1840. See how quick they were to get themselves photographed? The official ‘birth year’ of photography is 1839! (Although in truth the first photo dates from 1826, but still.) And by the way – no, she isn’t kneeling, she was just really tiny.


2 Roger Fenton Victoria 1854

1854, Roger Fenton’s portrait of Victoria holding a portrait. Of Albert of course, who else?


3 Queen_Victoria_Prince_Albert_and_their_nine_children 1857

Mom and Dad with all nine children, 1857. There’s a persistent rumor that Victoria didn’t love her children. That seems very harsh to me. I do believe she hated being pregnant, but who knows how difficult her pregnancies were? Who knows how nauseous she was? Who knows if Albert still wanted her with her big belly?


5 Princess_Beatrice_mourning 1862

It is 1862 and Albert is dead. Victoria stages a picture of her daughters surrounding his bust and calls it ‘Princess Beatrice Mourning’. That princess being the blurred little one, who obviously couldn’t stand still long enough. But being the baby of the family, she was cut more slack than the others.


6 wedding Bertie and Alex 1863

The wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863. I think I would have strangled my mother if she had screwed up my wedding picture like that. But then I my mom was very, very different from Victoria.


4 Sarah Forbes Bonetta 1864

Sarah Forbes Bonetta, 1864. Now here’s an amazing story. Sarah was a West-African princess who, as a small child, lost both her parents in a tribal war. She was sold as a slave and, through the interference of a British sea captain, given (!) to Queen Victoria. The queen declared herself Sarah’s godmother – I have a nagging suspicion she took to her like one does with a cute little pet . . . but it did help Sarah to overcome some of that horrible start in life. She married a wealthy African officer and had three children, always staying in touch with the queen. She died of tuberculosis in Madeira, only 37 years old.


7 Carte-de-Visite Victoria and Prince of Wales

Victoria and the prince of Wales. It is a ‘carte-de-visite’, the precursor of our business card. When photography caught on, people rushed to get their pictures on cards. They idea was that you’d call on someone, hand your card to the maid/butler/door opener, and then Monsieur or Madame could see who was there. And decide if they were home or not. I dare say queens and princes didn’t really need an introduction and I doubt very much they ever turned up on your doorstep unexpectedly.


9 Queen_Victoria_1897 crownjubilee met bruidssluier

Portrait to commemorate the golden jubilee in 1887. Fifty years on the throne. Over her black mourning gear, Victoria is wearing her wedding veil. Hmmm, I don’t know, isn’t that a little freaky?


Royal Families

Family gathering at Balmoral, 1896. Queen Vic in the middle, Bertie on the right. The man with all the thingies on his jacket is Tsar Nicholas II, a distant relative. The miserable looking woman on the left is the tsarina (did she foresee what was ahead?) and that very weird baby is Grand Duchess Olga. Queen Victoria was known as ‘the grandmother of Europe’, she was related to pretty much every crowned head on the continent.




Color photography.

From the very start, photos were being hand tinted, with water based inks or oil based dyes. It was an extremely precise and time-consuming job. At the end of the 19th century Gabriel Lippmann, a French physicist, developed an early form of color photography. He glued together light-reflecting surfaces that, aided by chemicals, used refraction and other physical phenomenons to produce an image. Which unfortunately couldn’t be viewed on anything but the actual plates – it certainly wasn’t reproduceable. Nevertheless, in 1908 Lippmann was awarded the Nobel prize for it.

We know the brothers Lumière, Auguste and Louis, as the founding fathers of the cinema. But – are you ready for this? – they didn’t think there was any future in the moving image, so they turned their energy to color photography. In the camera, they put a glass plate which was covered in the thinnest possible layer of colored starch. This worked as a sort of conversion fliter: it let same colors pass, and blocked the complimentary colors. When projected (like a slide) the result was amazingly realistic. They named their invention “autochrome”. It was based on a fairly simple principle but applying it was far from simple.

Round about that same period (the beginning of the twentieth century) – and with pretty much the same idea as a starting point – Russian chemist Sergej Prokudin-Gorskii discovered a process where he took, at a dazzling speed, three (monochrome) shots through differently colored filters. He then projected all three images simultaniously, using a specially built projector with three lenses above each other and with specially colored light, rendering astonishingly life-like colors. His system could not be printed either, but luckily the American Library of Congress owns his entire archive and started its digitalisation in 2004. But the maker of what is considered to be truly the very first color photograph, in 1861, is Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell, who used roughly the same process for his Tartan Ribbon:

0. Tartan_Ribbon JCM


It wasn’t until after WWII that consumer-friendly color films became widespread. And even those weren’t always very stable, which accounts for the many purpley-hued and/or faded aunts and uncles filling family albums all over the world. Since the advance of digital photography analogue color photography is quickly losing ground. No wonder – it is a terribly complicated process that requires a lot of specialized knowledge, materials and equipment. All of which is in rapid decline, and the consensus is that in 20 or 30 years time, there will be no-one left who can handle analogue color photography. As one photo historian said: “When it’s gone, it’s gone.”


1. Dickens combi credits

In 1859 Herbert Watkins shot a portrait of Charles Dickens. In 2020 Oliver Clyde digitally colored it in, just in time for the 150th anniversary of Dickens’ death on June 9th. (Look at the date of this post! How topical is that?). I read that this clearly proves the writer had a healthy skintone – not at all the stereotypical pallor of the time. No offense to Mr. Clyde, but may I store that under the header ‘far fetched’?


2. Daguerrotypie Atelier E. JacobsDaguerreotypie by a certain E. Jacobs. The hand coloring apparently got on E’s nerves, because the plaid on the toddler’s outfit has been slapped on rather coarsely. But craziest of all has to be the prop the little chipmunk is holding. Yes, indeed. A shotgun. At the risk of sounding biased, surely this is American?



4. Autochrome archief Kahn 1914

Autochrome 1914. From the enormous collection of Albert Kahn, a French banker who set out to visualize the world through color photographs: Les Archives de la Planète. Unfortunately the Great Depression of 1929 put a spanner in the works. In this shot of a balloon event (they look more like melons!) you can see the grains and the spots of the colored cornstarch.


3. Gebroeders Lumière

The Lumière brothers. Left is Auguste, on the right Louis. This is not an Autochrome, but a hand-tinted photo. Aww, somehow that doesn’t seem right.



5. ThePondMoonlight Steichen

Edward Steichen The Pond, Moonlight. Mamaroneck 1904. Yet another way to color your photos: the gum bichromate process. You prepare your paper with a mixture of gum arabic, pigment and a light-sensitive component. Negative on top, expose, rinse, and there’s your monochrome print. Repeat with a different color pigment, and a third time, maybe. It sounds fairly simple but it’s not – far from it.



6. Prokudin Gorskii 1912 GeorgiëSergej Prokudin-Gorskii, Georgia, 1912. The tsar was so impressed with SPG’s work, that he gave him a train(!) to travel the gigantic country and document the population. He spent years doing that, until in 1917, suddenly riding around in a gift from the tsar wasn’t really that much fun any more . . . In any case, the end result is stunning, both in a photographic and a demographic sense.

7. 1912, Kaukasus

Caucasus 1912. Here you get an impression of what he did with those filters. Differently colored filters change the rendition of the original colors in a black-and-white pcture. When projected those colors can be recreated. Oh, I get it. Hmmmm. Vaguely.

Russian photographer Pavel Kosenko has a richly illustrated post about SPG on his blog:


8. Hek Versailles

From your blogger’s archives. A seriously bleached out Versailles. But don’t be fooled, this shot is only a few years old. Nowadays, we have yet another tool to determine the color of our pictures: Photoshop. This is filter “Warm Skin, Fading” . . .


The Big Shots. (Part 1, probably.)



European art is loaded with Big Shots. I once had a long discussion about it with a dear friend from art school – she said Italian Renaissance painters formed the all-time biggest influence, I was team 17th century Dutch Masters. All a bit silly of course, and also all a bit true. It probably has to do with our respective locations, too: she’s been living in Italy for more than twenty years, I’m a 10-minute bike ride away from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Where you find the Big Shots of this post. My heroes, my idols: Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer. Both ridiculously talented draughtsmen of course, but they are photographers avant-la-lettre, they see, they register, they choose like a photographer, applying Cartier Bresson’s decisive moment without the split second. (Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French photographer who coined the phrase ‘decisive moment’: the intuitive choice a photographer makes to capture a moment in time.)

Rembrandt is the street photographer of the 17th century. He must have shlepped endlessly through Amsterdam, jotting down everything he saw in his little sketchbook. I think THE most amazing example is his drawing of the ‘Koekenbakster’ – the pancake baker (1635). Look at them! The weary woman, the toddler with his pancake-filled cheeks, but most of all the guy reaching in his pocket for money. Look at his posture, his neck, his mouth – slightly open in concentration. I swear I can feel the sandy guck, that somehow always ends up in your pockets, under my nails. From Rembrandt’s all-seeing eyes straight onto the paper. It’s insane.

De Koekenbakster


But it doesn’t stop there. Rembrandt manages to convey emotions in a painting as if he’s talking to us. This portrait of his son Titus (1657) is the ultimate story of a father’s love for his son. I’ve never seen anything else like it. The realization that he has had to bury Titus makes it even more poignant:

Titus Wallace coll.1657


Lucretia, 1666. When I finally got to see this in person, I could hardly pull away. This is the second painting he made about the fated Roman girl. She had been raped and saw no other option but to commit suicide. He captures her when life is running out of her and all that is left is this unbelievable sadness. It always moves me to tears.

Rembrandt Lucretia (II) 1666


Now. Johannes Vermeer. His ‘Little Street’, 1658. This is not a badly cropped reproduction, the top of the façade really is missing. He could have easily redone it when he noticed it wasn’t going to fit the canvas. But he didn’t, thus making us feel we saw it all in passing. “Hold on, is that woman standing at a washtub? And were there two children playing under that little bench? Is it even a bench? Lemme go back and have another look.” If you would have photographed this, you’d kick yourself upon discovering that the top was missing. But Vermeer knew what he was doing – cropping the image like this, he gives us the feeling of a small world. Imagine there’d be sky over the gable, that would feel totally different.

Straatje van Vermeer 1658

Next is one of the Vermeers that cause wild speculations (1663). Is she pregnant? Or just fashionable? Who wrote that letter? What do the pearls on the table mean? Nobody knows for sure, but hey, c’mon! Of course she’s pregnant! And let’s assume, to keep things relatively simple, that it was her husband who wrote to her, that he sent her the pearls. Or whatever. X-rays show that the jacket (a ‘bed-jacket’) originally had a fur trim. Why did he change that? I give up. Nobody knows.



One more. For now. Sleeping Girl, 1657. Look at her, too tired to straighten the mess in front of her on the table. Was she cleaning the floor? Is that why she pulled back the carpet on the table? (Yes, the Dutch put Persian rugs on their tables. Don’t ask.) Her cheeks are flushed with fatigue, she just HAD to sit down. I can feel her tiredness.


Almost all Vermeer paintings are so-called genre paintings, depictions of everyday life, and oddly enough he almost always puts a crumpled piece of cloth on the table. So why would that be? It is true what they say – the man is an enigma.

The Still-life


“In the still-life the world stops at the far edge of the table.”

from the BBC documentary ‘Apples, pears and paint – how to make a still-life painting’.


Around 1596 Caravaggio made a painting that is generally considered to be the first still-life. Whether that is a correct qualification remains to be seen. Centuries later, when Pompeii and Herculaneum were discovered, it turned out that the Romans had done them too – lavish images to show off their hospitality, their wealth and the produce of their vast empire.

The Netherlands of the 17th century were still-life-crazy. After iconoclasm, the Protestant republic craved secular art to exhibit their endless wealth and exotic imports – just like the Romans 1700 years earlier. Art was owned by the burghers – there was no royalty, no nobility, no Catholic church to claim it. The paintings were literally dripping with abundance. This was the richest nation in the world, don’t forget. However, we were (are?) Calvinists, so somehow we had to curb our bragging. Enter the Vanitas.

“Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas” is a well-known expression from Ecclesiastes meaning “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”.

A Vanitas painting is filled to the max with symbols. Skulls, hourglasses, clocks are all pretty obvious reminders of mortality, but music too, was a useful symbol, after all, when the last tone ends, everything is gone.

In Spain around 1600 another important still-life culture emerged, especially in the monasteries. In contrast this one was triggered by austerity. They depicted the contents of the larder, the ‘bodega’, and thus are called Bodegones. An important name in this context is the Carthusian monk Juan Sanchez Cotán.

In the eighteenth century the Academies started calling the shots and an institution like the Académie Royale in Paris had a profound disdain for still-lives. In a sense they applied a hierarchy: at the bottom of the pack lies the still-life, then comes the landscape, then portraiture, and then, on top, images of historical, mythological and biblical scenes. Those were considered truly meaningful and prime examples of man’s intellectual prowess. For Jean-Baptiste Chardin, French master of everyday life, it was quite a battle to be taken even remotely seriously. In 1728 he actually received recognition from the Academy (as “valued painter of Animals and Fruits”). No mean feat, for painting what-was-in-front-of-you was hardly considered artistic.


1 Stilleven Pompeii

Pompeii, ca. 70 AD. It looks as if Escher was here! That table’s edge does something weird. But it’s a fresco, so even a small change would be a huge hassle. Oh, well, I suppose it could be a recess.


5 Juan Sanchez Cotán 1602

Juan Sanchez Cotán 1602. Those pieces of string make sense – fruit and veg were suspended that way to preserve them. What doesn’t make sense, are the shadows. He painted what he saw, but apparently the sunlight came from different angles every time he got behind his easel.


1a vanitas Pieter Claesz 1628

Pieter Claesz. Vanitas ca. 1628. Paintings like this were a showcase, to convince potential patrons of the painters abilities. He mastered it all: glass, wood, reflections (of himself for instance). And with intellectual depth, too.


17 Jean Baptiste Chardin La Raie 1728

Jean-Baptiste Chardin, 1728. The Ray. Every day life. Although? A seemingly smiling ray with his intestines on display and a freaked-out cat?


39 Cézanne

And then came Cézanne. Being the Impressionist he is, he doesn’t paint what he sees, he paints how he sees it. He has this amazing technique that make his still lives initially seem a bit odd, but if you look at them from a distance, or through your lashes, they become extremely real. I’m sure the experts are right when they say Paul Cézanne “painted his angst, motivated by a frenzied perception”. Of course. But clearly he was also a very clever draughtsman who knew exactly what he was doing.


Canestra_di_frutta_(Caravaggio) ± 1600

If you look at Caravaggio’s fruit basket like you looked at the Cézanne, it turns into some sort of tapestry. I learned that from David Hockney! From his super interesting book Secret Knowledge.


Picasso Violin and grapes Moma

Picasso. Violin and grapes, 1912. Cubism and the still-life are an ideal match – after all cubism allows you to show, on a flat surface, all sides of your subject.


Mapplethorpe Poppy 1988

Photography has taken other aspects of the still life under its wings. In advertising of course, but also in contemporary fine art photography. Poppy, 1988. Robert Mapplethorpe. Think he’s known only for his homo-erotic work? Think again.


31 mosaic Peter Ruting

This is by Dutch photographer Peter Ruting. I once introduced him to someone saying, “this is the man who made me graduate from the photo college.” And he said, lovely guy he was: “No, you did that yourself”.


“In the Still-life the world stops at the far edge of the table.”

No way it does.

Marie Antoinette


In the 1780’s two Parisian jewellers find themselves burdened with a shitload of diamonds – 647 to be precise. They make them into an elaborate necklace, assuming they can sell it to the extravagant queen Marie Antoinette. But even for her it is too expensive. Now what? For help they turn to a self-proclaimed ‘confidante’ of the queen: the countess de la Motte. She and her husband conjure up a complicated scheme, which includes a lovestruck cardinal, a prostitute impersonating the queen, fortune tellers, and a trip to England. De la Motte embezzles the necklace, the jewellers are duped, and all along Marie Antoinette knows nothing about it. In the end the scammers are arrested and convicted, but the reputation of the court, and particularly that of the queen, has been damaged to such an extent that historians consider this affair part of the onset of the French Revolution.

Poor Marie Antoinette. The people of France hated her and called her the Austrian Bitch. They saw her bathing in luxury and blamed their poverty on her. Granted, she was the original fashionista, she played shepherdess in her cute little purpose-built hideaway, she spent a fortune on hair and makeup. But she was also a lonely girl, just 14 years old, who was sent to a strange country to marry a royal teenager who had no idea – not of being a king nor of being a husband. After eight years they apparently figured it out, because she started having children but two of them died in infancy. After the revolution she was incarcerated in the Conciergerie, a cold and horrible prison. On October 16th, 1793 she was beheaded, 37 years old.


1 MA-Lebrun, dégoutant 17831783 A rather controversial portrait of Marie Antoinette, by her court painter and friend Elisabeth Vigée-le Brun. It was considered completely inappropriate that the queen was depicted in such a flimsy negligé-like dress. She just could not do right. The collaboration between the two women, who were exactly the same age, produced countless portraits, also very stately ones:


2 MA Vigée le brun 1778That’s more like it. Marie Antoinette in full splendor, big hair, and ‘paniers’ under her skirt. Fashion of the day required dresses to be extraordinarily wide, so the women wore undergarments with basket-like contraptions on either hip. Needless to say, that was only for the happy few. No way you could work the land or clean the house in these!


Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun: <i>Self-Portrait</i>, 17901790 Self portrait of Elisabeth Vigée-le Brun. She is working on a painting of the queen. Pretty girl, isn’t she?


5 Alexander Kucharsky Marie_Antoinette 17921792 Alexander Kucharsky. He made a series of portraits of the queen in captivity. This pastel is unfinished, and worked over by a revolutionary maniac with a club.


6 MA Jecques-Louis David okt. 17931793 Jaques-Louis David’s sketch of the queen on her way to the guillotine. After the execution the raging crowds dipped their sleeves in her blood (gross!), but she was dignified to the bitter end. She tripped climbing up the scaffold and apologised to the henchman, worried that she had hurt him.


7 Cornelia l'Autre Coté du Miroir2000 Cornelia Nauta, l’Autre Coté du Miroir. Marie Antoinette has always been an inspiration for artists – Sophia Coppola mellowed our opinion with her movie, and in the beautifully moving series l’Autre Coté du Miroir, Dutch photographer Cornelia Nauta shows us a different, more human side of the much maligned Rococo queen.



Light II. The Sublime.

The Sublime is originally a philosophical term, that in art history refers to the overwhelming greatness of things and elements that are beyond human control. During the Romanticism – in the 18th and 19th century – it specifically referred to wild and untamed nature. As such it is the opposite of beauty, which was considered harmonious and well proportioned. Admittedly, this concept requires a flexible mindset and it is easily shredded. But don’t forget it originated in an era when people first started travelling, explored nature, and at the same time watched in astonishment how science managed to explain more and more inexplicable phenomenons. Pretty frightening stuff. Through the ages people struggled with the all encompassing force of nature, conjuring up divine personalities in order to make some sense of it. The painters of the Romanticism hurled emotions and knowledge onto their canvases in one thick thundering outpour. Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) explored the great German outdoors, the Black Forest or the North Sea coast, and once back in his studio enhanced what he had seen so that we city dwellers could lose ourselves in raging skies, shipwrecks and Polar ice. In England, JMW Turner (1775-1851) was way ahead of his time in his manner of painting, but his approach and his choice of subjects were highly romantic and sublimely Sublime. John Martin (1789-1854), another Englishman, became quite famous with his extensive knowledge of the Old Testament, his deeply religious beliefs and his penchant for infernos. When his rebellious brother Jonathan torched the cathedral of York, a bystander compared the sea of flames to a John Martin painting . . . Oops. A third Brit who needs a mention here, is Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1794). Another master of light. I’m sure all these guys will reappear here at some stage – today I concentrate on their weird, wild, sublime landscapes.

The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself. If he sees nothing within, then he should stop painting what is in front of him.

                                                                                         Caspar David Friedrich


Friedrich Das Eismeer ±1824.jpg

Caspar David Friedrich, Ice Sea, 1824.


Friedrich Wrak in maanlicht  1835.jpg

Caspar David Friedrich, Shipwreck in the moonlight, 1835.


John_Martin_Le_Pandemonium_Louvre 1841.jpg

John Martin, Pandemonium, 1841.



John Martin, Sodom and Gomorrah, 1852.


Joseph_Wright_of_Derby_-_Vesuvius_from_Portici 1775.jpg

Joseph Wright of Derby, Vesuvius erupting, seen from Portici, 1775.


Turner_-_Fort_Vimieux 1831.jpg

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Fort Vimieux, 1831. Turners depiction of an English war ship, enlisted in the early eighteen hundreds to fight against Napoleon. In this image the sea is actually very tranquil, and according to a Sotheby comment it is doubly anchored (I can’t find them) so all should be well, but in Turners vision the scene is wild and threatening.


Andreas Aschenbach Kust van Sicilie 1847.jpg

Andreas Aschenbach (1815-1910). Coast of Sicily, 1847. Another German romanticist. Light-wise, this takes the cake, don’t you think? Still squinting, I hope?





Photography literally means writing with light. The writing bit is arguable, but without light, there simply is no photography. That holds true for the analogue age, and it hasn’t changed with digitalisation. Everything you or your camera sees, is the reflection of light on something. And if that light isn’t sufficient, you see nothing. Period.

The real challenge of light is getting it right. If the subject is too contrasty, the photographer is screwed. You can hide a multitude of sins with modern equipment and software, but contrast remains an issue. Which probably explains why so many photographers have the hots for difficult light. ‘Rembrandt light’, ‘clair-obscur’ . . . especially technique fanatics consider a well aimed nose shadow the be-all and end-all of photographic quality.

Ok, in all fairness, it is of course the story of the picture that counts. And you can bet your bottom dollar that light plays a big part there. Hard light (the one with the contrasts) brings dynamics and energy to the photo – soft, even lighting brings calm and sometimes even a fairytale feel.

It’s the same old song: technique is means to an end, never the ultimate goal; but without it you’re pretty damn stuck.

And that brings us to a couple of painters who threw themselves passionately at light. Caravaggio and Rembrandt are the grandmasters of clair-obscur, but today I’d like you to meet a few other light magicians. And maybe another time, too, there’s so much beauty to behold! The best way to enjoy these images, is to squint – look through your lashes and you’ll see exactly what the light is doing.


3 Gerrit_van_Honthorst_-_De_koppelaarster 1625.jpg

Gerrit van Honthorst, The Matchmaker, 1625. It took me a while to detect the lady in question (far left, she’s pointing). Initially I thought that generous bosom belonged to the matchmaker, and wondered if her male customers would ever settle for anyone else. The lute she is holding provides little cue – it is a symbol of love, but whether it is lust or courtly love is usually determined by the context. And then that cleavage is quite a distraction! In any case, Honthorst’s use of light leaves nothing to the imagination. But then, he belonged to the Caravaggists of Utrecht, Caravaggio’s painting fanclub.


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Adriaen Coorte, Gooseberries, 1699. Here you really have to use the squint technique. Oh, I find this crazy beautiful. Coorte made just over 60 paintings, all of them small still lives. About ten years ago two more were discovered under a layer of dust in an attic, I believe in Middelburg, his home town.


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Marie-Denise Villers, Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes, 1801. Some art historians are convinced this is a self-portrait. The light is astonishing, with the back light and the effect of the drawing paper that acts as a reflector with that weird, spooky shadow at the wrong end of the eyes. And can somebody tell me what is going on with that window pane? Is the glass broken? It sure looks like it.


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Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol, Madame Monet and Son, 1875. Can you feel the heat, the burning sunshine? Can you smell the hay? I remember watching a series about the Impressionists, and the scene where Mme. Monet came to fetch her husband for lunch, but he couldn’t stop working. The last shot was a quote of this painting. Recognizing it made me feel very much an insider.


Marie Bracquemond Sous la Lampe (Sisley et sa femme) 1877.jpg

Marie Braquemond, Sous la Lampe (Alfred Sisley et sa femme) 1877. Marie Braquemond, née Quivoron, did not lead a very joyous life. She was dragged around France and Switzerland by her unhappy mother until they finally settled in Paris. There she met her husband Félix while they were both sketching at the Louvre. He apparently was resentful of her talent and the appreciation the Impressionists had for her work. Her health was fragile too, and all these factors may have conributed to the fact that she isn’t too well known. She should be, though – look at this painting of fellow artist Sisley and his wife.


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Sir George Clausen, The Gleaners Return, 1908. Ever since biblical times, really poor women and children were allowed to pick up leftovers after the wheat harvest. It was a semi-organised form of charity. For some reason, maybe to glorify the people who allowed this, gleaners are often depicted in sheer heavenly light (check Millet). Clausen was on a roll here.


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John Singer Sargent, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1886. My favorite painting EVER! If I had a favorite painting, which I don’t. But it is stunning. Big and gorgeous and breathtaking. The title comes from a song. It took Sargent quite a while to complete this, halfway through he changed models because he was looking for this particular hair color, and he had very little time each evening to get the right dusky light he wanted. Now squint already!



Wet Plates.

Back in time, to the year 1851. Photography had been introduced twelve years earlier and although enormously popular, it was a terrible hassle. Costs were high, exposure times long, and the result often a disappointment. Then British inventor Frederick Scott Archer (1813 – 1857) discovered collodion as a base for light sensitive silver nitrate, which is necessary for any photo. Collodion had been around since 1846 when people started using it to cover wounds. It is gun cotton – aka nitrocellulose – mixed with alcohol and ether. Yup, ether! It stinks like hell and if you’re not careful you pass out. But in the 19th century they were thrilled, it had some huge advantages over the older procedures, in particular regarding sharpness and exposure times. Still, it is a complicated and demanding system: first you have to pour the collodion, a goopy, syrupy fluid, thinly and evenly on a (glass-) plate, which you then immediately have to immerse into the silver nitrate. Then that light sensitive stuff has to be exposed – immediately. After that the plate has to go into the developer immediately, and then development has to be halted with a bucket load of water. Immediately. When the collodion dries, it loses it’s light sensitivity, hence the name Wet Plate photography. It’s pretty cumbersome in the studio, on location it borders on madness. In the beginning they dragged along tents and wagons, and in outdoor scenes you pretty much always see water in some shape or form. On top of that, the prints were contact prints – if you wanted half decent sizes, you’d have to bring accordingly large equipment and material. Glass was used for the plates so that posed a breaking risk. You could, and can, also use tin (or nowadays aluminium) plates: Khadija Saye’s tintypes. But then you don’t have negatives, so no reproductions. One last but important drawback: collodion is combustible, and what’s worse, explosive. It has blown up many darkrooms and unfortunately many photographers, too.


Tintype Taqulittuq and Ipirvik.jpgTintype, portrait of Taqulittuq and Ipirvik, aka Tookoolito and Ebierbing, alias Hannah and Joe. They were an Inuit couple who in the 1860’s worked as guides and interpreters for British and American expeditions to the Arctic. In a way they were lucky to be able to earn a living that way – during their initial travels they were exhibited . . . horrific. Although they did dine at Windsor Castle then, as guests of Queen Victoria.


Roger Fenton's Photographic Van Crimea.jpgRoger Fenton’s mobile darkroom, 1855. This is how he shlepped all around the Crimean War. The man on the wagon is his assistant Marcus Sparling.


Tintypie ± 1890.jpgTintype from ca. 1890. Slightly odd focus here: his face is a little blurred, his checked suit on the other hand . . . sharp as a knife! Still, a beautiful picture. Of course it’s a beautiful guy, too.


Tintypie Billy the Kid 1865.jpgThis is a portrait of Billy the Kid, one of the legendary outlaws of the Wild West. The tintype looks rather worse for wear, but it is nothing compared to Billy’s fate – he was murdered by his old friend and partner in crime.


Syl en Bet Collodium.jpgYour author, and friend and colleague Sylvia Lockhart (check out her website below). These tintypes were made during a wonderful Wet Plate workshop by Daniel Barter (check out his website below, too). As you can tell from all the blobs, the pouring of the collodion was, shall we say, uneven? It’s more difficult than you’d think. The black edges are beaten raw egg, applied with a Q-tip to prevent the collodion dripping off the plate.        

Women on beds

Ever since downloading images came up to speed, I have started collecting art. Virtually, that is. My largest and most favourite folder is ‘Women on a bed and other odalisques’. The world is full of the most amazing reclining women, in various states of dress or undress.

I think the first of the naked beauties was probably Giorgione’s Venus from 1508. He died when he was still working on it, so it was finished by his student Titian. Apparently Titian was inspired by it, ’cause he turned out a couple more – so many in fact that museums all over the world have his naked ladies lying around. The most famous one is at the Uffizi: the Venus of Urbino from c 1535. Rumour has it that it was owned for a while by a cardinal at the Vatican, who kept it behind a curtain. (Go figure what he did. Go figure what she is doing, by the way!)

That painting, in turn, has served as an endless inspiration to artists and still does, so here are a few examples. I’ll be showing you more women on beds every now and again.

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Giorgione’s Venus. In a landscape, eyes closed. She might be naked, but she is keeping us at a considerable distance. But that was about to change:


The Venus of Urbino. There aren’t many facts known about this painting, but there’s an abundance of presumptions. For instance, that the Duke of Urbino saw it in Titian’s studio and insisted on buying it. Well, she’s way more inviting and seductive than her predecessor, can you blame him?

Delacroix ±1827.gifEugène Delacroix, 1827. The Romantic era (and Delacroix was the “prince of the Romantics”) was steeped in longing for the East. In the East there were harems and in harems there were naked women, so they made a comeback in art, this time in the form of odalisques.

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Olympia by Édouard Manet, 1863. Shock! Horror! That gaze! That nudity! The conservative Salon, the art world’s big shots, had yet another coronary. The model is Victorine Meurent, a Parisian prostitute – they probably recognised her.

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Paul Delvaux, 1951. “Iron Age”. The Belgian surrealist, who painted countless nudes in odd backgrounds, with trains, stations, squares, factories.

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And finally, Paul de Nooijers Odalisque. I’ve had this image in my ‘collection’ for years and I cannot for the life of me find anything about it online. He did make this, didn’t he? Surely it’s by him? It has to be. Paul de Nooijer is a Dutch photographer, who mostly works together with his son Menno. Staged photography, very interesting.