“Paint to Pixels” 8th November 2017

The meeting this week was something completely different in that it focused on paintings of the old masters, albeit with a photographic slant. Our member John Macfarlane LRPS DPAGB AFIAP EPSA concentrated on one famous painting, that by JMW Turner of ‘Buttermere Lake with Part of Cromackwater’ painted in 1898. This subject had been inspired by the renowned landscape photographer Joe Cornish who references it in his talks on photographic composition and who was in the audience on this occasion. John gave the background to the painting by explaining that Turner had been on an extended painting tour of northern England in the summer of 1897. Indeed John had examined Turner’s original leather-bound sketch books from this trip at the Tate Britain gallery as part of his detailed research. He explained that Turner was directed to the Buttermere valley, from Keswick were he was staying, by the many contemporary guidebooks but especially by the detailed hand-drawn map published by Peter Crosthwaite (who founded the Keswick Museum). This map of the Buttermere valley was annotated with recommended ‘viewing stations’ and, illustrated by his own photographs, John identified the specific viewpoint as Hause Point on Rannerdale Knotts where Turner had produced the original sketches for his painting.

A notable feature of the very atmospheric painting, one of the first in Turner’s iconic later style, was a striking rainbow across Buttermere at the junction of the Buttermere valley and the valley from Ennerdale which runs below Floutern Cop. Using retrospective meteorological almanac data and resorting to aerial photography from a microlite, John established that the conditions on the day of Turner’s sketching could indeed  have produced the rainbow that Turner painted, with sunlight coming down the Floutern valley during showery weather in the Buttermere valley. However, Turner was known to sometimes add in rainbows at the painting stage so this remains as plausible conjecture. John introduced a modern-day take on this by precirculating his own photograph of Buttermere taken from the Turner viewing point and inviting members to create an interpretation of Turner’s painting using Photoshop or other post-processing software. The striking recreation by  Richard Jakobson was judged by the audience to be the most effective and versions by Brad Cheek, David Woodthorpe and Julie Walker were also highly regarded.

After the break the fine art theme was continued with ‘Learning From The Masters’ by Carmen Norman LRPS. Carmen has been influenced by paintings ever since she was given a copy of ‘Art Treasures of The World’ as a child. The book has had a profound influence on her approach to landscape photography. She showed paintings by many famous landscape painters, particularly Constable and Turner, and revealed how their compositions adhered to the classical divisions of the golden section as exemplified by the Fibonacci sequence or the photographic ‘rule of thirds’ approximation. The intersection of thirds is an area where the eye seeks elements of pictorial significance. For each classical painting, Carmen showed a matching photograph from her own portfolio capturing a similar mood and composition. Her exceptional images both delighted and instructed and the audience were enthusiastic in their appreciation, as they had been for John Macfarlane’s highly entertaining and scholarly presentation.