Self-taught Australian photographer Bill Gekas finds inspiration in paintings by the “old masters”.
In 2010, Gekas started a project recreating the paintings of Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, Velasquez and Christus.
Interviewed for the Epoch Times in 2015, Gekas stated that lighting, colour, tonal relationships, composition, and emotive expressions of the subject all make a contribution, helping to produce photographs which look like paintings.
A trait that Gekas shares with artists working in paint media, including the old masters which influence his work, is the way in which he prepares his images. Photography has an immediacy, but Gekas creates the impression of a limited colour palette by cultivating his images: compositions are drafted in notebooks, outfits, backgrounds and props are carefully selected and, most importantly, lighting is planned. Wall (in Horne, 2012) stated that all photographers are either farmers or hunters. Quite clearly Gekas is a “farmer”, tending to his images and developing them over a period of time.
“Most indoor work is usually lit with a 28” soft box as a key light.”
Interestingly, artificial lighting is used to illuminate the scenes he creates and Gekas provides an impressive list of equipment including: speedlights, Einstein studio strobes, light modifiers, reflectors, and RF triggers.
This is one aspect, perhaps, in which Gekas departs from the methods of the old masters who would have used natural light and, if using optics to produce their images, strong daylight.
“In painting, the painter can create the emotive expression required in the final works from their own imagination. Whereas in photography it must be captured, and this is the challenging aspect.” Gekas is, therefore, quite clearly able to relate to a concept put forward by Snyder and Allen: “Most people, if asked, would no doubt say that, whereas the painter can paint whatever he wants, the photographer must depict “what is there.”” (Snyder and Allen, 1975, p. 148).
Bill Gekas, date unknown. Potatoes
“Potatoes” is an exquisite example of Gekas’ work which, on the surface, shows a Spartan kitchen scene in which a young girl is distracted from her task of peeling potatoes by something quite obviously more interesting outside the window.
Clearly it is Gekas’ intention to recreate a kitchen scene by Vermeer, who specialised in painting internal domestic scenes, and this has unquestionably been achieved. “Potatoes” was quite possibly based on Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” – for me there is too much of a “nagging sense of familiarity” in Gekas’ image for this not to be the case.
The attention to detail: the kitchen “set”, props, costume and lighting – all harmonise to create an enchanting synergy. The overall effect invites a second look, at least, in an attempt to answer the question “is this a painting, or a photograph?”
Culturally, Gekas is making a statement regarding the level of quality in the workmanship of the old masters, and the longevity of visual appeal that this quality brings to their paintings. But, in addition to this, Gekas is suggesting that there is still an appeal for something familiar to be shown in a new way.
How does Gekas’ work relate to my photographic practice?
Firstly, the work of the old masters is obviously a source of inspiration shared by Gekas and myself.
Whilst Gekas and myself both share a mimetic desire to produce images with drama, atmosphere – in fact all the qualities seen in the old masters, we differ in terms of what we wish to achieve with the end product.
Gekas sets out, quite clearly, to recreate the paintings of the old masters. It is my intention, through continuing research, to use the techniques employed by the old masters in producing their paintings, to produce images which not only have a painterly aesthetic but which also provide a commentary on our relationship with food: how we produce it and consume it.
For me, moving forward, there is a great deal to learn from Gekas’ work, not least of which is his superb skill in realistically employing artificial lighting to create the impression of beautifully soft natural light.
The old masters produced paintings which have a timeless appeal. There is always something “new” to see in an old master. I think that this is something that we both appreciate.
Horne, R. (2012) “Holly Andres, “Farmer” of Photographs” in The Wall Street Journal (3 January 2012) [Online]. Available at: http://blogs.wsj.com/photojournal/2012/02/03/holly-andres-farmer-of-photographs/ [Accessed 9 February 2017]
Snyder, J. and Allen, N. (1975) ‘Photography, Vision and Representation’, Critical Inquiry, vol 2, No. 1 (Autumn, 1975), pp. 143-169 [Online]. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1342806 (Accessed 03 February 2017)