Exercise 1.2: Through a digital lens

In 1964, Belgian surrealist, René Magritte, painted 'The Son of Man' (below, left). It is a portrait of a man in a bowler hat, red tie and dark blue overcoat.  He is standing in front of a low wall, which holds back the sea in the background. Overhead is a cloudy sky. The most distinctive feature of this oil painting is the green apple, which partly obscures the subject's face. His left eye can just be seen peering at the viewer from behind the fruit. The title, 'Son of Man', together with the apple, give the work of art a religious reference to Adam in the Garden of Eden.


Whilst the portrait contains common features, there is a sense of mystery, or conflict, that exists for the viewer. The man's figure hides the full sea view in the background. His gloved left hand is slightly behind his back. It is unclear whether he is holding something. Meanwhile, the apple hides the man's face, so without a visible expression, it is unclear as to how he is feeling, or what he is thinking. The apple becomes something of an annoyance to the viewer.


Following Magritte's work, Juan de Ezcurra has attempted to recreate it as a photograph, with a modern twist. Whilst the top half of a man, wearing a dark suit, red tie, and hat is seen standing in the middle of the foreground, he is holding an Apple iPhone instead of an apple. He is holding the phone so that the iconic Apple logo can be clearly seen. Subsequently, there are some differences between the two images. Whilst Ezcurra has photographed his subject on a cloudy day, the background is very different, with a sea of concrete instead of water. The buildings behind the man also provide the viewer with a possible reference point as to where the stranger is. Whereas Magritte's work is nondescript.


Another difference is that the man is holding his left hand up, instead of it being partly hidden. The iPhone covers both of his eyes, and it is unclear whether he is actually taking a selfie, or photographing the viewer. This feature of the image could be a metaphor for how people now hide behind their digital devices, capturing the details behind them rather than seeing what is in front of them. Alternatively, it could be that on a basic level, Juan de Ezcurra has simply replaced an apple with an Apple. 


With artwork it it is all too easy to read more in an image than what was meant by its creator.   


After completing the first part of this exercise, I watched Sam Taylor-Wood's Dutch still-life video of a bowl of fruit gradually decaying (below). The ability to show the passage of time within one space really intrigues me. Also, animated gifs are becoming increasingly common. Digital devices and internet connections are able to perform better when dealing with moving images. In addition to this, DSLRs and camera phones are able to shoot high resolution video. I believe that moving image will be dominate the future of digital photography. Especially when video memes are already being posted onto social networking sites as a means of expression and communication. 

For the second part of this exercise, I wanted to see if I could create an animated gif as a modern day interpretation of a famous artwork. Taylor-Wood's Still Life made me think about the Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh. Of course, his famous Sunflowers (below) would be an ideal subject to show gradual decay, similar to Taylor-Wood.

The third version of Sunflowers found in Munich, Germany, by Vincent Van Gogh.

The third version of Sunflowers found in Munich, Germany, by Vincent Van Gogh.


After buying some sunflowers, I connected my camera to an intervalometer, and set it to take a photography every hour. I  felt that this would be sufficient to capture any movement each day. Over the course of 3 weeks the camera captured 342 photographs (no exposures were made when it was dark). Luckily, I had positioned the camera so that it was easy to change the battery without disturbing the set-up. 

However, once I imported the images into Photoshop, via Lightroom, I needed to make a few adjustments in order to reduce the overall file size. I cropped the image and reduced each file resolution to 40%. 

Below is my animated sunflowers. Due to the file size, there is a lack of resolution. It's a pay-off between the number of images needed to create a smoothish animation and a file small enough to stream over the Internet. However I think it gives it a painterly quality that refers back to Van Gogh's version. Next time, I think I would reduce the image quality when I take photographs for an animated gif. 

Sunflowers, by Matt Davenport

After uploading the gif above, I thought it looked a bit dark, so I went back into Lightroom and reduced the amount of shadow and contrast. Unfortunately with animated gifs, the original version looks much better than the 20 mb version below. I did use Photoshop to convert the gif to an mp4, and uploaded it to YouTube (below). The video shows much more detail and has a better overall finish. However, I prefer how the gif is self-contained and continues to loop, whereas annoyingly, the YouTube video ends and links to content that I have no control over. 

Sunflowers 2.0, by Matt Davenport

Sunflowers 2.0, by Matt Davenport