Tag Archives: art

A movie for photographers and artists (and scientists & inventors & the curious)

I highly recommend the recently released, thought-provoking, movie Tim’s Vermeer. When my husband suggested we go, I begrudgingly agreed, thinking that it would be a snooze-fest with pompous art historians and that it wouldn’t be an ideal way to spend one of the first sunny, Spring-like Saturdays of the year.  Wrong!

Produced by Penn & Teller (of course, that Penn & Teller), it is lively and engaging film about digital inventor Tim Jenison’s attempts to prove a theory that Vermeer painted his photo-realistic paintings using optics in a way that nobody else has before or since.  Jenison attempts to prove his theory by recreating a Vermeer — the bedazzling, light-filled The Music Lesson — using the same materials available to the Dutch painter. He ground his own pigments, made his own lenses following 17th century processes, and went to great lengths to recreate the studio setting for the painting.  The movie documents Jenison’s 5-year endeavor to study and replicate the physical items in the painting, even having a Dutch potter make him a replica water pitcher and recreating the Delft light conditions in his Texas warehouse studio by constructing a Dutch-style false building facade outside his studio to diffuse the light as it would have been diffused by neighboring buildings in Vermeer’s studio.

Most importantly, Jenison hit upon a solution to low-light issues with a camera obscura by building additional mirrors to re-invert the image and to brighten and focus it in order to paint.  This, in Jenison’s theory, is what Vermeer must have done with the camera obscura that separated his art from that of his peers.  It isn’t simply geometry, or a savant artistic ability, but a mechanical solution to recreating on canvas what is seen — and what is not so easily seen — by the human eye.

This film is a documentary but don’t expect it to be unbiased. There are a few comments by artist David Hockney and architect Phillip Steadman (both wrote scholarly works that prompted Jenison’s quest) that support Jenison’s theories, as well as comments that his theories will be rejected because of the “art establishment” looking down its collective nose at an outsider.  And they are right: art historians have been mostly silent or dismissive, Jonathan Jones in The Guardian even describing the documentary as “an art film for philistines“,  without addressing the counterarguments.

The film doesn’t really discuss alternative theories.  But, on some level, it goes beyond trying to prove Jenison’s theory.  Instead, this film can be seen as being more about Jenison’s obsession with trying to figure out how Vermeer created such realistic paintings 150 years before the invention of the camera than it is about trying to disprove or resolve century old questions definitively.  That may not have been director Teller’s vision, but as a viewer, I find it hard to walk away without thinking about the  relentless obsessive journey to prove what cannot be proven or wondering what sort of reception Jenison’s “discovery” will have in the art world in the long-term.

Jenison, Hockney and Steadman discuss in the film how one could never be sure whether Jenison has proved anything.   His idea that Vermeer could have used a camera obscura and additional lenses to refine the light can never be proven; it can only be a theory — with a demonstration that it is possible.   Hockney repeats several times in the film that paintings are documents, even Tim’s recreated copy of The Music Lesson.   As documents, all paintings — including Vermeer’s and Jenison’s —  are open for speculation and  interpretation.

I think it is important to recognize that Jenison never says that his painting is as good as Vermeer’s.   He never tries to put it up to a test to see if it could fool someone into thinking it is a Vermeer.   Even the painting’s name — Tim’s Music Lesson — suggests that he doesn’t think it is even a reputable copy of the artwork, simply a recreation of another’s work using the same hypothetical technique.   If you were an amateur — and admittedly not a very good one — what might you do with a work that you researched for four years and then spent another five months producing?  I think many would do what Tim Jenison did:  hang it in his bedroom, a sign of a personal accomplishment.

I think that this film raises many questions that it doesn’t attempt to resolve in a meaningful way.   Foremost is the issue of what is a “legitimate” use of technology in the making of art.  In Vermeer’s day it may have been a mechanical tool to recreate a scene. The film points out that the use of geometry for depicting the correct perspective in a painting, even though it is an acceptable technique,  is as much a tool as using a set of mirrors.  The film suggests that to be dismissive of the use of a “tool” is a bunch of BS — but in doing so they are as dismissive of the counterargument as the critics are of Tim’s theory.   Is the art world stuck into thinking that the use of a tool is “cheating”? What other tools might be considered inappropriate for the making of art?  Is it the same today, perhaps, of digital art?

The closing comments by Penn Jillette suggest an answer.  It is something that I will ponder for a long time: “Is Tim an artist? Or is he an inventor? That we even ask the question is the problem.”  This film has a lot to consider, especially for people interested in photography or digital art.

I highly recommend Tim’s Vermeer (website), even if — especially if  — you consider yourself a philistine — or a photographer, an artist, a culture enthusiast, a scientist, a technology geek….

Sunday Quote, 2013, Week 32

How cunningly nature hides every wrinkle of her inconceivable antiquity under roses and violets and morning dew! 
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

roses, emerson, art

A lovely rose from a lovely friend’s garden

Stairway to the 4th Floor

Stairway to the 4th Floor

Stairway to the 4th Floor

I can’t hear, say or write the phrase “stairway to” anywhere without an earworm:

“There are two paths you can go by, but in the long run/There’s still time to change the road you’re on.”


“As we wind on down the road/our shadows taller than our souls”

If you are not of a certain age, you may need to listen very hard before the tune comes to you.

It isn’t a song I ever liked very much, but I can’t help but sing along when I hear it.   Regardless, I like the image anyway.  And it is a stairway.

Taken at the Indianapolis Museum of Art with an iPhone5, edited in Lightroom4.

Sunday Quote, 2013, Week 27

There are always flowers for those who want to see them. ~ Henri Matisse

Leaf, Petal, Water

Leaf, Petal, Water

Never done this before …

A selfie:



Pretty Peonies


Sunday Quote, 2013, Week 14, Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.  
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.  


Sunday Quote, 2013, Week 12, Thich Nhat Hanh

We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.
                                                                 – Thich Nhat Hanh

Understanding The Nebula

Understanding The Nebula: The Cloud of Unknowing

Sunday Quote, 2013, Week 8, Hugo

To love another person is to see the face of God.  ~ Victor Hugo

To infinity and beyond

To infinity and beyond

Beyond Beyond, Assignment #1

I decided at the last minute (the day before the class started) to take Kim Klassen’s Beyond Beyond class.  I thought that it might be a way to expose myself to a different style of photography.  I hope to pick up lots of useful information on Photoshop and Lightroom as well as be exposed to lots of creative inspiration through the class assignments and what the other participants do.

If you are a member of the class — are we calling it B2? something else? —  welcome to my blog!  Be sure to introduce yourself in the comments.   I’d love any constructive criticism on my work.

The first assignment was to make an arrangement, such as a still life, though it didn’t need to be.   Then, photograph that still life from several different angles without moving the item(s) being photographed.   Kim suggested 10 shots, but being the overachiever that I am, I went far beyond that.   🙂

Shooting items from several different angles and with different depths of field is quite compatible with what I usually do.   I noticed last year, during my 365 project, that as the year progressed and my photo skills developed, I shot fewer shots.  I think this was good because I was more easily identifying the best setups for a shot before I clicked.  My big problem with the multiple shots approach is that I am horrible at deleting the “rejects”.   I must be better about housekeeping with my catalog!

Since this was my last week at the beach, I had many subjects that I wanted to photograph:  shells I had collected along the shoreline; birds in the surf illuminated by the sun and breaking waves; another amazing sunset — and yet, another and another;  the orchids and beautiful blooming hibiscus near the pool.  I used this multiple shots assignment on each of them.  And, although I still need to delete more shots, I was much better at hitting that Delete Without Remorse button.

The last part of the assignment was to select of few favorites and to make a collage.  This is the first time that I used PSE to make a collage.   While I like the photographs that I chose, I am find my collage to be a bit boring.  But, for a first attempt, it isn’t without merit.

I made these photographs of the orchids using both my 60 macro as well as my Lensbaby Double Glass with Macro extensions.  I’m still getting used to shooting with the Lensbaby, so it was a good thing that I took way more than 10 shots!  There were at least that many that were deleted because they were unusable.   I made a few adjustments in ACR, then added one of Kim’s textures (Minus43) at 20% Hard Light or 20% Hard Mix to four photographs.   I also used Minus43 as the background for the collage.   I really like the soft muted colors of Minus43 and I was amused that Kim titled it for the temperature the day she created it.  Amused that I was applying it to photographs taken when it was far, far, different than -43.


One of the things that I think I did well with the collage is that I was able to limit the number of shots I used.   There were many that I liked, but I prefer groupings that are simple and uncomplicated.  I don’t think that it adds to a grouping if you have too many shots that are similar.  I had edited four photographs to use in the collage, but jettisoned one of them at the end.   As I posted this, I realized that my margins are not equal — something I would change if I had the time right now, but for now, it’s time to load the car and start the long trek back to the cold, snowy north, where it isn’t 75 degrees, but — thankfully — it is not 43 below!