I have seized the light. I have arrested its flight.
~ Louis Daguerre
I was taking Art History – European – Gothic period to early 20th Century . I enjoyed the lectures; studying the art, learning about the artists, how one period inspired and evolved into the next. There was an added surprise of serendipity when I got to integrate aspects of that class into my other coursework. Humanities for example, where the concentration was on 20th century contemporary art, literature, and film. It was there I discovered the deeper humor between Caravaggio’s Bacchus and Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #224. Still, I had a single recurring problem in Art History — test anxiety.
The exams in Art History were intense and timed. This was another indirect way I connected with Cindy Sherman, who has described her own academic art history experience this way: I’m illiterate in the historical… the stuff teachers attempted to bore into my head…The way I’ve always tried to cull information from older art and put it into my work is that I view it all anonymously, on a visceral level. For me, the combination of heavy memorization, essay writing and the pressure of a stop watch, wreaked havoc on my spirit and my grade. Enter Louis Daguerre, debated inventor of photography, to my rescue.
Our assignment, one of only a few in the class and worth 20% of the grade, was to recreate a daguerreotype, specifically the 1837 original, The Artist Studio, using 21st camera technology and our personal items, and an accompanying creative written essay of our process.
Louis Daguerre – Daguerreotype: ‘The Artist Studio’ (1837)
I was determined to achieve academic salvation in Art History and attain a perfect score on this assignment. I am, after all, a photography art & science major, I write essays, and my artist motto is: Every picture tells a story. Every story creates a picture. I do both. If I don’t score big on this assignment, it’s game over and time to sell-off my equipment.
The approach I took in creating this personalized Daguerre redux, or SMOtotype as I opted to call it in homage to Mr. Daguerre, was centered on two things: 1. work with the natural light coming from the left and showcase texture while illustrating depth and contrasting shadow as much as possible. 2. Use framing, number of objects, and their positioning to closely resemble Daguerre’s in hope of capturing the aged vibe.
All the objects represented in my SMOtotype came directly from my own collection of personal artifacts. Each piece has its own individual connotation of nostalgia, vintage age, sentimentality, or inspiration. The oldest item, is the hand-etched crystal vase from the 19th century originally belonging to my paternal great-great-grandmother, while the youngest items are a pair of leather-bound journals I acquired last year. It’s difficult to determine any specific item as my most favorite, though for this project I’d have to select the round gold-rim 1970’s Elton John-like sunglasses. These were my grandmother’s, though I don’t ever remember seeing her wear them. When I first integrated the sunglasses in a self-portrait assignment for a photography class, the professor was so pleased with photo he recommended I submit it in the student billboard art contest. It was my first-ever photo contest entry. I placed 4th winning a respectable cash-prize. I’ve now adopted this item as a special signature prop to include as a discreet cameo appearance in all my photographic studio work. A symbolic gesture of love to my grandmother and positive omen toward many more successful photographic art achievements.
Staging the items was accomplished quickly — within minutes. Having done other still life photographs in the recent months, I knew from the get-go where I’d shoot the photo and how I wanted to arrange the objects. Once I’d secured the camera angle and distance with a tri-pod to achieve the intimate view like Daguerre’s photo, the majority of the work was fine-tuning the light coming from two windows (one facing north, the other east), adjusting camera settings, and post-production editing.
Managing the window light was done by shifting the direction of light that was being filtered in by two sets of 2-inch, horizontal wood blinds, one on each window, along with continuous manual tweaking of the camera’s aperture and ISO settings. Full color desaturation to achieve an achromatic image was the first part of the post-production editing In total, over 250 raw file images were shot at various times of day, from early morning to dusk.
Post production editing began with eliminating all the unwanted images. This process was done rapid fire style, going through each image, and swiftly answering yes or no, with immediate deletion of unwanted files and narrowing the cut of images for final consideration down to ten. The remaining images were then placed in one of two categories: ‘progress’ or ‘final’. The images in the final category were used as the working prototypes to get the the final photograph.
As a rookie in the art of photography, specifically working with post-production software (all my post-prod. work was self-taught), I was pleased with the result. Though nervous of my professor’s critique and response. The outcome? You decide. Please feel free to leave thoughtful, constructive comments below. As for my professor… first, she advised me to drop the word “rookie” from my vocabulary when describing my photographic art abilities, commended my process, approach, and planning and granted me an A+ on the assignment. Mr. Daguerre and this SMOtotype delivered the goods that landed a B+ for the class. Something Cindy Sherman might relatably appreciate too.