Capturing the imagination – a photographic remake

It is normally a pretty good sign if some colleagues in the staff room know about a project that you are working on before you’ve told them about it. It means that pupils themselves are talking about it!

This was the case last week. I had taken my fourth-year classes (15-16 year olds) to our local museum, the Jan Cunen Museum, to see an exhibition by the Dutch photographer Micky Hoogendijk. Most of the work on display were quite large-scale portraits with varying degrees of digital manipulation often in the form of overlays of other imagery imposed over the head or face. Three works stood out though as slightly different. These particular photographs didn’t have the same manipulation, but they did have a historical resonance with seventeenth century Dutch art.

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We talked about the set of photographs whilst at the museum, the clothing, the poses, the use of light and the restrained expressions on the faces. The linking with seventeenth century art was strong and something the pupils later explored in a homework assignment.

Whilst the Hoogendijk works don’t seem to have been based on specific images from the past they offered the pupils a contemporary route back to artworks that they often pass quickly over in other circumstances.

The photographs also offered me a chance to make use of a practical assignment that I have used in the past. This involves a photographic remake of an art historical portrait where the pupil plays the part of the subject of the portrait. It is a relatively straight forward assignment to explain, and maybe this helps in the way that it seems to have captured the attention of my pupils in the last couple of weeks.

I provided a large selection of images for the classes to search through to find something that they thought that they could work with. I gave strict instructions for the photographs that they were going to take, and these were going to become my marking criteria when evaluating the work:

  • The pupil really has to play the part, the expression involved and displayed was important
  • Composition and the arrangement of figure and attributes were important
  • The use of light in the painting had to be followed as much as possible in the photograph
  • The pose of the figure should be used as a basis in the photograph
  • The clothing can be updated but should show a relationship to the original painting   Providing the framework
  • Cardboard box office
  • Related posts:
  • All photographs shown above are included with the pupils’ permission.
  • Looking back on the results that were finally handed in, I feel that the effect of that having seen high quality photos in the exhibition had a positive effect. I feel that it made them approach their own work in a more ambitious way. It definitely seemed to help them in taking a step away from the idea that this was just going to be a relatively unconsidered snap shot, an approach that is the dominant feature of most of a teenagers photographic output.

Beyond these instructions I left my pupils to it. Sending them off with a two-week deadline to produce this practical homework assignment. Although I did also stress that this was perhaps not an assignment to work on in a hurry on a dark Tuesday night…..they were to try and make use the of the natural light that the weekend offers.

 

Looking back on the results that were finally handed in, I feel that the effect of that having seen high quality photos in the exhibition had a positive effect. I feel that it made them approach their own work in a more ambitious way. It definitely seemed to help them in taking a step away from the idea that this was just going to be a relatively unconsidered snap shot, an approach that is the dominant feature of most of a teenagers photographic output.

All photographs shown above are included with the pupils’ permission.

Related posts:

Photographic frames of reference

Cardboard box office

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Hieronymus Bosch, Chris Berens and Oss

The southern Dutch town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (or Den Bosch) there is currently a large exhibition of the work of the town’s most famous son, Hieronymus Bosch. Works have been gathered for around the world to be displayed in the Noordbrabantsmuseum to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. For Den Bosch the exhibition really is a big deal as there are normally none of the town’s hero’s works found there and for a few months at least they have been able to amass a considerable set .

Hieronymus Bosch is a much loved artist in art rooms around the world. His complex compositions are filled with endless detail, fantastic places, the most curious creatures, pleasure, suffering, heaven and perhaps most of all, references to hell.  There simply is so much to see and explore.

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Den Bosch is about tens west of where I teach, in the small Dutch town of Oss. Our local museum, the Jan Cunen, is a whole lot more museum than you might expect to find there. They are savvy enough to know when there is an opportunity to ride someone else’s wave of publicity and that is just what they have done by choosing to align their own programming to a degree with the major event in the neighbouring town. They have even been able to do this by inviting an artist with his own roots in Oss.

The artist concerned is Chris Berens, and has been presented and promoted as an artist drawing on Bosch’s work from 500 years ago. Berens’ work uses some of the visual qualities found in Bosch’s work, an eye for detail and at times huge complexity, but in a more contemporary manner. I have visited the exhibition twice this week with the groups of fifteen and sixteen year olds that I teach. The work is rich in fantasy elements but misses the background religious messages that lie under the surface in Bosch’s work. Technically the work is also rather different being built up of multitudes of manipulated computer prints and hand applied ink work that bring a considerable intensity to the finished work.

For more of Berens work visit his website:

Chris Berens website

The link below gives a little insight into his working practice:


chrisberens2My pupils have enjoyed their visits this week and once again have been quite surprised at the cultural offerings that the local museum can offer. The complexity and rich fantasy element in Berens’ work is particularly engaging in the eyes of the pupils, at least when they pause long enough in front on a single work to give themselves time to unpack some of the riches to be found there. It is no secret that patience not the strongest point of an average fifteen year old!

Bosch’s work is accessible to children and young people on several levels and will continue no doubt to be drawn on by art teachers around the world. In this context, and as an interesting contemporary parallel, Chris Berens’ work is also worth a visit. The technical approach in his use of collage and mixed media is an aspect I will be drawing on in the coming weeks with my classes.

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