Searching for Caravaggio

I am not exactly sure of my strong connection to Caravaggio. These is a deep spirituality that exists in the images that has a strong pull on my subconscious and create a sort of cathartic effect on me emotionally. It’s not merely about the lighting, which is brilliant, but it is about humanity revealed on the canvas. Many of the images draw on religious stories, but instead of elevating them to an ethereal level he has imbued them with an earthly reality. JUDITH BEHEADING HOLOFERNES 1598, MARTERDOME OF SAINT MATTHEW 1599 The images I am drawn to are of the male nudes which have such a sensual quality to them of SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST 1602, JOHN THE BAPTIST 1605. Caravaggio always painted from reality, which was revolutionary at the time. He used real subjects that he would pose and stage and paint. A painting would have taken weeks to produce and they did not have the means of modern light to maintain such consistency. The artist studios of this area where so elaborate and much of what was seen had to be illuminated by candle. I have seen images of massive candelabras with a hundred candles on them that were attached to a pulley system and become fully adjustable to create a constant source. They would also use light from a window at specific times of the day, or a series of mirrors that could reflect the light on the subject and be adjusted as the light changed through out the day. The depth and tone created by actual light is stunning and adds such a multi-dimensional quality to the subject. But I think what is most remarkable about Caravaggio’s images is that he gives such inner life to his subjects. It’s almost like he reveals their souls though expression, position and of course light and color. I am entranced to look into these visions.

I strive for this quality in my own work. Using qualities I admire in this artist I try to bring to my own work. Of course as a modern lighting designer we have so many tools at our disposal. I generally begin with a large soft box some distance from the subject, then use a series of large scrims to filter and soften it further, then I begin blocking and controlling the spill. I have a series of big black freestanding flats that I can place in front of the light to absorb it and control the fall off. It takes a lot of time and testing to place the tones where I need them. I am constantly tweaking them and trying different options because I never really quite know the effect until it’s uploaded and on my computer monitor. I prefer not do a lot of post-production adjustments to the final images; instead I strive to create it though the lighting process in the studio. I am still a purist in this part of the artistry of the photographic process. Sure I will skew the tonal range just slightly to heighten the reality. I also borrow Ansel Adams’ technique to slightly burn the outside edges slightly to bring the focus into the subject, but it is very subliminal. These are techniques I used with the image in the darkroom when I was printing by hand. It is having a strong connection to my subjects and exploring issues they are emotionally dealing with in their modern lives reveals their souls to viewer.

For today images I used Caravaggio’s painting BOY WITH A BASKET OF FRUIT 1593 (bottom) as my source of study.

One thought on “Searching for Caravaggio

  1. Marklin

    >I understand you completely. I have been fortunate enough to be traveling and working in Italy for the last four months. I have been haunted by Caravaggio for so long it has been my obsession to stand before his works and at times not breath looking at his works. The Italians are impressed by my love for him. I have come to understand that Michelangelo had God given talent but Caravaggio stole the hand of God to paint. I am loving your blog, and miss you on ManArt. Marklin

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