Exercise 1.2 – Existing Work of Art

1 Discuss a photograph that takes an existing work of art as its starting point. Write a 500 word reflection.


Following a visit to the exhibition at the National Gallery (2012) entitled “Seduced by Art – Photography Past and Present” one image, by the Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra, stayed with me. This image took its ideas from “The Birth of Venus” (1862) by Eugene-Emanuel Amaury – Duval.

The Birth of Venus

Dijkstra photographed a series of adolescents on a beach in Poland and simply titled them by their location and date.

This picture entitled, “Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26 1992,”according to the exhibition’s write up on this subject,

“shows the same heightened realism as that seen in Richard Learody’s ‘Man with Octopus Tattoo”


This was shown very close to Dijkstra’s portrait.

The cold rawness of flesh is very different to the idealised alabaster smoothness of Venus but to the author this is the more real. The placement of the subject is however comparable. The bather stands out against a neutral background. Fill in flash is used to brighten the body, pulling it forward towards the front plane of the picture.

Both figures display a pose called ‘contrapposto’, in which the body’s weight rests on one leg , throwing the torso into counter pose. This creates an uncomfortable feeling for the viewer. This is contrary to the feeling displayed by Duval where the painting was allowed to be somewhat more unrealistic where the pose is more of an affectation than a reality.

Djkstra took a number of pictures of young girls and boys in exactly the same pose and these seem to ask the question “Is there a difference?”. Personally I cannot see a male / female divide.

Dijkstra also speaks on the subject of nakedness and unlike Duval’s work, her subjects are not naked but she feels that they have been subjected to the same pressures as a naked model. “Naked but not nude!”

This picture is part of Dijkstra’s most famous series, Beach portraits (1992 – 2002). The camera catches a passive stare, is shot from low down and studies the condition between youth and adulthood, showing intense vulnerability and awkwardness.

I have been working recently to try to show, in the studio, various states, in particular the total natural relaxed pose and this gives me a cue to also try to demonstrate vulnerability.

I think the motivation for this photographic exercise was to study time and change. This picture is provocative and could almost have been produced for an unacceptable part of the sex industry.

The painted study of Venus is also looking at a specific time in a woman’s life. The motivation for the study of Venus, however, seems completely different. It is more of a picture for the male gaze before the introduction of photography as pornography. It is softer and more acceptable.

Although the picture is being considered here as a single item in comparison to a painting, it is very much part of a set of carefully balanced compositions, defined by the central presence of the youthful subjects.


De Panne, Belgium, August 7 1992 1992 Rineke Dijkstra born 1959 Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1999 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P78328



These adolescents are not at one with themselves, they are unsure of their place in the world. This leads me to consider whether “The Birth of Venus ” shows that same vulnerability. I think it does. There is a slight tension in the body which the artist has chosen to portray rather than disguise (only slight). In painting it would have been easy to disguise it whereas in photography that option is not so easy to achieve.

The subjects remain anonymous to the point that each one is only identified by its date and location so if seen in a list it would not be possible to know what the subject is going to be. However, each picture has a certain tenderness (beauty) which one would have expected to be drawn out within the title.

The beach portrait photograph is printed 117 x 94 cm, somewhat smaller than the painting whose original size is 196×109 cm but still quite large and imposing.

2 Re Make an existing work or art using photography.


The Singing Butler by Jack Vettriano


Jack Vettriano is a Scottish artist (originally Jack Hoggan until he adopted his mother’s maiden name). I use the word artist purposely here because I am aware that there are many experts who do not regard his work as art. According to The Daily Telegraph he has been described as the Jeffrey Archer of the art world, a purveyor of “badly conceived soft porn”. There are many other similar references but my own personal view stands “that he is a prolific artist, admired by thousands if not millions. He is a household name”.

The Singing Butler is probably his most well known work. It measures 910mmx710mm and sold in 2004 for £744,800. It has stayed in my mind for many years.

I produced my version of this picture in 2012 for the module “The Art of Photography”. Since then I have moved on and the reason I am bringing this picture back is to look at it in a different way, as a piece of art rather than a study of colour which was the subject at the time.

The Singing Butler

I chose three people, including myself, rather than four, with the intention of portraying a slightly different image of the individuals. I was looking for a sense of fun using older people to see if I could portray the same sense of glamour. The original is more formal and more passionate but it was not my intention to ridicule the passion. It was a positive intent to show something slightly different, not literal.

The weather conditions were completely different and the natural light on the day was intense and full of contrast. This, I thought added to the bright cheery atmosphere and I regarded this as a positive.

The technical quality of the picture was not perfect and I have been advised by experts to improve it by post production, perhaps add an overlay, but for me this picture is intensely personal and exactly as I wanted it to be.

I have the shadows, the effect of a windy day and an a formality of dress which in both cases describes a quality of life to be enjoyed.


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