Photographic painter: Levin Rodriguez
Very early in my life I developed a deep appreciation for classic paintings. During the Renaissance, masters like Brunelleschi and Caravaggio developed perspective, chiaroscuro and other techniques that allow paintings to be more like today’s photographs. I have always loved these paintings, their rendering and interpretation of passages from Greek and roman mythology allowed me to visualize these wonderful stories of gods, nymphs, centaurs and heroes. Although I have some drawing skills, I never learned drawing or painting techniques, something that personally I believe is necessary to be a painter. This may well be the reason why I embraced photography. Maybe in my subconscious I see the camera as my brushes, colors, pigments and canvas. This is how I came up with the idea of producing painting-like images with a photographic camera, which I call “photographic painting” for short.
Photographic painting has become a wonderful part of my life. I truly enjoy the time I spend in studying the masters’ paintings, researching about what objects they used, location, their use at the time and their meaning in the painting. It takes quite a bit of reading and research and thus is also a learning and educational experience. The history and stories behind the paintings become layers on top of the aesthetical and visual aspect of it.
Once I have decided what paintings I want to photographically paint; I look for the objects that I need to use or decided to use for those particular pieces. This is not an easy task, the masters of the Dutch Golden Age used XVII Century objects; finding similar ones today is very difficult if not impossible without spending fortunes to acquire them. In many cases I had to “make” them; which normally means that I modified existing objects to look like XVII Century ones.
The biggest challenge though comes at the photographing time. Painters have no restriction on lighting, they can simulate light sources whether truthful or not, they can exaggerate angles and fake perspective (M.C. Escher being a great example of this). This is not the case with photography, you can modify lighting, add, take away, but you can’t fake it. The same applies to perspective and what fits in a frame. There is no other way except through painful experimentation that normally entitles taking many, many exposures.
Another really difficult aspect is to achieve that painting look using artificial lighting while arranging the composition like the painting.
For every exposure, I would have to find the right angle both horizontally and vertically to match the perspective, then arrange a table or space with props, constantly comparing to the source painting, then take the photo, look through the camera, zoom in and realize that maybe the overlapping of a tazza and a roemer was not the same, or a lemon peel (very common in these paintings) was not where is supposed to be, or a glass was off in terms of distance, the folds of the table cloth are not right, etc. For every exposure, I would move the objects a bit, go through the review process and snap again. It normally takes between 10 to 40 exposures before I am satisfied.
At the end, when I look at the final image and I believe I have captured the essence of the painting, then comes the reward. I feel like being part of that master’s creation on my own terms, a wonderful and fulfilling feeling indeed.
Levin Rodriguez holding a Berkemeyer glass with wine – Self Portrait after Frank Hals “The Merry Drinker”
5 Minutes with Levin Rodriguez
MAC: Can you give us a little insight on your educational background and what initially inspired you to start recreating paintings?
I explained that at the beginning of the post.
MAC: Your blog (www.levinrodriguez.blogspot.ca) is called “The Berkemeyer Project”. What exactly does “Berkemeyer” refer to?
A Berkemeyer is a type of glass very common in XVII Century Dutch Republic (the glass I am holding in the portrait above). I thought about using “Berkemeyer” because I wanted to spark curiosity which in your case I think worked. My blog used to be called “My Photo Life”, but then I realized that it shouldn’t be about me since I am not that interesting, but about this “photographic painting” theme that I care much more about and it may be more interesting to others who love classic art, specifically painting.
MAC: What is your ultimate objective in photographic painting? What do you hope to translate to the viewers?
I have reproduced several classic paintings to a credible level but I see this as a phase in a longer journey, I have now entered a new phase where I use the masters’ style or identifiable compositions but I incorporate my own components to make it my own.
I also like to “extend “if you will some of the masters’ scenes, I have now produced at least two of these images. They are based in famous paintings by Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer, but I have removed the humans. They are meant to show few moments after the person left the scene, I have incorporated clues about what they did. The viewer will be stimulated to think about that, as such the image now has an evolving story behind it and thus becoming more meaningful.
I have included one of these images, this one based on Vermeer’s iconic painting “The Milkmaid” or “The Kitchen Maid”. There is a description in the following linked photo.
MAC: Which piece of work did you have the most fun creating and why?
Like most photographers, I always, always love the most my last creation, the one that I took just two minutes ago.
MAC: A quote/ artist/ piece of work that you live by?
I appreciate many forms of visual and performing arts. If I have to make the difficult choice of picking favorites, I would award the prize to Peter Paul Rubens for his interpretation of Greek myths, Jan Vermeer for the courage of producing his almost entire “oeuvre” in one room and Caravaggio for his amazing light treatments.
The Markham Arts Council would like to thank Levin Rodriguez for taking the time to provide us with this very insightful and detailed post about photographic painting- a form of art not many people are aware of. It was a pleasure working wth you!
If you have a creative mind and would like to share with MAC, we accept submissions every week and are hoping to showcase and share local talent. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll let you know how you can be our next Featured Guest.