Spaniards are particularly hostile to photography in Public Art Galleries. This is unfortunate because some of the more interesting Murillos aren’t in the books. I love details of the paintings I love. That’s how I came to invent the abdomen-camera. It’s an ordinary auto-advance, auto-focus viewfinder camera upside down and barely poking out of one of those money-belt pouches that tourists are wearing these days. I’ve rigged mine with a cable release that goes down inside my pants and up through a hole in my pocket. Thus, moving nonchalantly, hands in pockets, I aim my stomach here and there and take photos under the noses of gallery guards.
“The Human Camera,” I say to myself as I move among the tables of a Seville restaurant, taking belt-high candids of stylish chicas and chicos. A techno-man who has the capacity to grab and conserve protected artifacts or a slice of the human condition at an exact time and place, silently, pleasantly, without a ripple of suspicion or the hint of pose. For the purpose of libel or espionage the ab-cam would be illegal. I’m consoled and empowered by my benign harmlessness.
“I have gradually confused photography with life,” said photographer Jerry Uelsmann. It’s the sort of dementia that strikes artists of all stripes. It’s particularly virulent when we manage with our devices a degree of proficiency — we are hooked and addicted.
Creative invention is the artist’s way of making easier the jobs we must do. What’s to be done about the artist who gives in and practices this kind of subterfuge?
PS. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” (Latin Proverb)
Esoterica: Seville’s the place to see Murillos. His forceful rendering of everyday subject matter made him the 1600’s toast of the town. His remarkably competent religious pictures evoke sweetness and humility rather than ecstasy or severe virtue.
Desert Lion, Ngwenya, Swaziland
Albert Christoph Reck told me about his encounter with a black box—what the professional calls the camera. In a suburb of Johannesburg they gave him one of these black boxes, he pushed the button and ‘click’ there was the township dog standing before the door of a tiny township house. And on the picture he could exactly see that tiny house with the poor dog. But he was disturbed that the feelings and thoughts of the artist were on the paper. What remains for the artist? He runs forever with his black box linear; that means straight forwards. Reck told me he is not prepared to go on infinitum with the box.
Monika El-Seroui, Graz, Austria
I too love Murillo and if I will have the possibility next year I surely will travel there. Speaking of focussing and getting what you want in museums — oh well — I did almost the same (however, I have neither a pocket with a hole nor an expensive camera and I had to do it openly but when the eyes of the keepers where just not looking to my side) last time when I visited the well known library of the Admont Monastery in Upper Styria/Austria. I too wanted to have some special little photographs of tiny things … unfortunately most of the pictures didn’t turn out to be good, only some.
Susan von Borstel, Garden City, California, USA
As a full time artist specializing in horses your voice is one of the few “adult human” contacts other than business relationships I have during the week. Thank you. I am currently swept up in Andalusian horse reverence and am planning a trip to the Seville area to get atmosphere and background ideas for these graceful animals. I’m also looking for Spanish symbols of historical and spiritual significance to subtly include in backgrounds. If you have any “don’t miss” suggestions I would love to hear from you.
(RG note) The fincas around Seville have magnificent Andalusian, Arabian, Lusitano, and other breeds. Where we stay near Galaroza in the Sierra de Aracena the pathways abound with a democracy of workhorses, riding horses, mules and donkeys — only negated by the unfortunate Spanish habit of controlling their beasts by hobbling.
Hole in the purse
Paula Sue Butts, Folsom, California, USA
With this system you capture something more than with purposeful photography. If you look at Toulouse-Lautrec’s work Chilperic, A Corner in the Moulon De La Galette and Cirque Fernando and many others, it definitely lends itself to this type of haphazard shots. Some of Degas’ works were like this as well. I was recently in a nightclub where my daughter performs old-style Burlesque acts and the dance floor is like a candy store for those who like the action of feet. I have shots of dancing feet that will soon be a subject to paint.
Here’s a fun way to have an adventure. Take your camera and put it around your neck. Make sure it is waist long. Then walk through the streets and crowds and just take shots. Don’t let anyone know you’re shooting. The fun is trying to conceal the shots and coming up with wonderful surprises. I made a hole in one of my old purses and have used it to conceal the shots and love the secretive part. It’s so childlike and you feel like you’re getting away with something. Be careful and make sure the lens is exposed to the area you’re shooting and not the inside of your purse.
By viewfinder I believe you mean “rangefinder” — silent compared to a regular SLR and no flash. I wish you would emphasize how silent and unimposing you were to the other viewers. Making it seem heroic without acknowledging the art or others seems to me like graffiti artists. Risk taking while ruining buildings and windows. (in other words, other peoples view). As an artist who travels frequently, I don’t need either “heroic obnoxious artists” or graffiti artists in my viewfinder.
Kim Brosemer, Pine Grove, California, USA
I wonder what is the reason people aren’t allowed to take pictures in museums? Does the light of the flash fade the painting over time? Or is it just for copyright protection? In that case, your benign harmlessness saves you from the “naughty” label.
(RG note) Definitely no flash. Over a few thousand flashes some works, particularly watercolors, suffer. Yes, and sometimes copyrights are still owned by descendants of dead artists or by the museums themselves. I rationalize my naughtiness with the thought that Murillo, and others, would probably be honored that someone wanted to hold and treasure his strokes. For those others who have asked—my ab-cam’s a Konica “Big Mini” auto close-up model. A relatively inexpensive “point and shoot” camera—very quiet. Flash turned off. I once fired it off in a casino in Lebanon and it flashed by mistake and I came very close to spending a night in the slammer.
While I applaud your inventive way of photographing museum works, I must remind you that you and I and all artists are protected by copyright… and we should be the first to respect copyright.
(RG note) Agreed. Copyright law concerns the use of images for commercial profit. We need these laws. They have some effect on the people who come into our galleries and photograph our work for the purpose of copying them. Now the Internet.
David Hockney’s research
Laurie Boese, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
For creative inventions, I’m dying to read more about David Hockney‘s research, described in New Yorker Magazine, January 2000. He mentions the Durer drawings, and Vermeer’s photographic techniques. I’ve used a grid like the one described by Durer in the article, and have shown my students how to make one as well. I tell them: “We’ve already invented the camera — if you want to make a realistic picture, go use your camera.” I suppose now that we have certain image altering computer programs, I can tell them the reverse about painting. “We’ve got image altering computer programs – if you want to make an unrealistic picture, scan it into the computer.”
Quote of the day
“You should often amuse yourself when you take a walk for recreation, in watching and taking note of the attitudes and actions of men as they talk and dispute, or laugh or come to blows with one another. Noting these down with rapid strokes, in a little pocket-book which you ought always to carry with you.” (Leonardo Da Vinci) submitted by John Sherlock.
Researchers and artists seeking inspiration can go to the Resource of Art Quotations.
Golden stations dept.
Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, Texas, USA
(Sunday, Dec. 11, 2000) 8:30 a.m.: enjoying the foggy morning while my dog Zac and I take our daily walk in the woods, 9:30: eating blueberry pancakes, 10:30: planting daffodil bulbs (better late than never, I hope) 11:30: still planting, 12:30 p.m.: dancing to Madonna’s “La Isle Bonita,” 1:30: writing invoices/receipts, 2:30: watching “Xena — Warrior Princess” on TV while making beeswax candles, 3:30: napping, 4:30: making candles, 5:30: walking in the field with John (my human companion) and Zac, 6:30: packaging beeswax, 7:30: calling customer (in earlier time zone), 8:30: watching “X-Files” while packaging beeswax, 9:30: packaging beeswax orders, 10:30: wrapping Christmas presents, 11:30: touching up a figure in clay, 12:30: reading the last of Irving Stone‘s The Agony and the Ecstasy (Michelangelo’s biography) while soaking in a hot bath.
(RG note) Kelly wins a copy of “The Painter’s Keys” for minding her own beeswax.
You may be interested to know that artists from 74 countries have visited these sites since June 1, 2000. That includes Todd Plough who writes, “keep it up Buster,” and Arla J Swift who found it difficult to resist calling it “shooting on the fly.” And Jason Channing who asks “what are you doing with your hands in your pockets?” And Susan Holland who says, “I love to take candid shots, and so often there are things that would be spoiled immediately if I whipped out a camera. But I’m guessing with your system my range would be less than yours, since I’m kind of short.” And Moncy Barbour who reports that “once in a gallery in Germany a woman’s umbrella accidentally flew open and the guards at once took her down to the floor.”