From canvas to photograph

Arts & Culture

With calendars featuring celebrities as women from Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings, the trend of photographers recreating vintage paintings as photographs is on the rise.

By Riya Sharma

Photographer G. Venket Ram recreated popular 19th-century Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings into photographs that grace a 2020 calendar which according to Ram is a part of Naam Charitable Trust’s fund-raiser and 10th-anniversary celebrations. Taking the celebrated painter’s paintings as inspiration, the photographer meticulously recreated the fine details of the Varma originals with South Indian actors. 

The calendar features Khushbu Sundar, Ramya Krishnan, Samantha Akkineni, Lissy Lakshmi, Nadhiya Moidu, Lakshmi Manchu, Shruti Haasan, Aishwarya RajeshRajessh, dancers Shobana and Priyadarshini Govind, and one of the beneficiaries from Naam, Chamundeshwari.

Laura Hofstadter, a 65-year-old photographer recreated some of history’s legendary portrait paintings as creative self-portraits in a photo project series called Stages.

In her work, she said, “I hoped to challenge the viewer’s preconceived notions about beauty, youth, age, and body image by placing myself as the subject in otherwise familiar paintings.”

“Although these are serious issues,” she said, “I also hoped that the images could be appreciated with some sense of whimsy and humorhumour as well.”

In each photo in the series, Hofstadter has used her age as one of the main themes. 

With people under home quarantine due to the coronavirus outbreak, the internet is buzzing with replications of famous paintings into photographs, taking a cue from the professionals. 

Hofstadter said she chose to recreate paintings because they represent works of art that are familiar to many viewers, which allowed her to reach viewers through a shared starting point. Next, she said she was able to insert herself into the image in a way that could both intrigue and startle the viewer, and perhaps make the viewer uncomfortable. 

“I wanted to cast the traditional works in a new light in order to explore my feelings as a woman growing older in a youth-obsessed society,” said Hofstadter.

Venket Ram said, “The reason our recreation was so talked about was that we spent days recreating every minute detail, from lighting to ratio aspect, to the way the saree flew in a direction.”

Over the years studying painting, Ram said he considers painters as really good photographers. “A painter is supposed to capture an image in the mind and then recreate it on the canvas, which is not easy. I believe that if you want to be a good photographer, you need to study paintings,” he said. 

Hofstadter said she did not want her photographs to look just like the paintings they emulated although she wanted to evoke each painting. “As I worked on the project, I became intrigued by how little it took to evoke a classical painting. What I found was that I needed to carefully analyze the painting’s setting, proportions, the proper placement of the subject within the space, and other similar but basic considerations of the composition. But because I chose not to make an exact duplicate, I didn’t have to slavishly reproduce each element down to its finest detail,” she said.

Hofstadter tried to capture the spirit of the painting by choosing a few of the most significant and important props to emphasize and worked to model the subject’s body position and facial expression. 

“I consciously chose to sacrifice features of the original while adding new touches to make an image that is both recognizably the painting but also purely me,” she added.

Hofstadter was seeking both, a physical and symbolic representation in her photographs, with a dash of whimsy added in.

Renuka Kesaramadu, a contemporary painter, sculptor, and art critic believes that photography can sometimes push the original painting aside.

She said, “Original works may or may not make it to the exhibition hall or buyers’ hand but photography is everywhere. You can exhibit, print, sell, advertise the photographic recreations of a painting, but there will be none of that without the painting in the first place.”

Ram believes that recreation does not push the painting aside, rather revives it. He said that there are no boundaries to creativity and we live in a world where people have different kinds of ideas and everyone is entitled to their version of creativity. 

“If it’s wrong then why did it become a viral trend all over the world? The whole idea was that it suddenly revived Ravi Varma’s paintings and the foundation,” said Ram.

Kesaramadu said, “Most recreations do serve a purpose. Painting and photography both are fine arts and can together achieve more.”


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