“Goya,” he said, “that’s who your work reminds me of.”
I didn’t expect that coming from a client. “It looks like a painting” is what I usually hear from people when they see my portrait and wedding photography. But they never mention a specific painter. Never until now.
That’s what made me sit up and pay attention.
I knew of but never really studied Goya. There were others whose work drew my attention when I was in art school. Vermeer, who gained some pop culture familiarity because Scarlett Johansson starred in a movie about his life but otherwise everyone knows Rembrandt. I also liked Albrecht Dürer. Caravaggio. Others.
I’m pretty sure their work has imprinted itself deep into my mind. It’s gotten seared in there forever.
I think so. Because years later when I started photographing weddings my eye saw real life scenes which seemed as if painted by these Masters, a few of their familiar patterns as they happened to assemble together and manifest themselves.Through quirks of coincidence they presented themselves in real life. At various weddings, in various lighting schemes, I could make out images which replicated the textbook plates and museum walls I had seen growing up, coming alive like old familiar ghosts from a wishing well.
All this resembling the works I’d studied in school, on field trips, or even when I played hooky spending my time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I was supposed to be in class, in the days I made the museum my classroom and the artwork my textbook. Days studying at the high altar of art.
It’s a strange sensation when you see something so similar to the style of a famous painter. And there it is actually in front of you, available to be photographed. Right there and ready. It’s as if your eye recognizes something which looks like it may have been what the Master had posed in his studio.
And so you take that photo because, look, the bride in her gown as she reaches down to her foot and slips on a shoe, that’s a Degas. Look again and the groom taking his bride’s hand, it’s John William Waterhouse.
As I said, seared into my mind.
You’re taking that photo, extracting that image out of real life because it looks like something you saw hanging in a museum once upon a time, painted long ago by someone you know but never met.
Who, all the same, taught you how to see.
Isn’t it remarkable how they can reach through time and live on. And still touch us with their influence in what we do with our art.
Goya smiled today.
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