Welcome to the Gallery

Imagine is set in the Suffolk village of Long Melford.
This is an attempt to record the daily trials, tribulation and pleasure of running an art gallery.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

I often look at the blogs of artist's sculptors and potters and marvel at how interesting they are.
Many times this is because of the unusual life they all seem to lead, but also because
many times they show "work in progress", and this I find totally fascinating.
Seeing something evolve from the original doodle or design, through the various stages of creation until at last a beautiful work of art is born.
It has made me feel that what I go on about and the things I show as being a little static and not
involved with creation enough.
I consoled myself by thinking "heh, I don't get out much and don't have time to create anything".
But on consideration, of course I do. Every time a new exhibition is set out this is a form of creation so I decided that next time [in two weeks] I do this I will record the changes that take shape within the gallery.
" That should be more interesting", I thought.
Meanwhile what other things could I display that would show a creative process?
It was obvious. Me.
Or more precisely one of my photographs, or the creation of it.

People often tell me that my photographs look like old paintings, in fact I am told that they look like the paintings of Vermeer. I am not saying this to boast, it is just a coincidence, in fact I had never heard of him until I was told that my photographs looked like his reminded people of his work. As a result "I looked him up" and found that of course he was the man who painted
'The Girl with the Pearl Earring'.
A film I had never seen at the time but which is now one of my favourites.
Once I had recognised myself that some of my pictures did look like paintings I decided that the one thing that I would "never" do was to try and re-create a painting as a photograph.

But, I have always really loved the famous Pre-Raphaelite painting 'Ophelia' by John Millais.
I find it so very sad, gentle and moving, and very beautiful.

"Could I reproduce that as a photograph"? I wondered.
Ignoring my own rules I decided to give it a shot.

Anyone who has seen more than one of my pictures will notice that the same girls appear,
in different cloths and in different locations [more about this another day].
So I asked the "usual suspects", would one of them be prepared to lay in a stream or lake,
clothed in a period costume while I took photographs.
Three of them agreed so I knew that this could actually happen.
However, a long period of time passed and none of them settled on an actual day to do this.
With the passing of time it became obvious to me, they had given it thought and decided that
although I might be mad they certainly were not.
So I accepted that it would never happen.
Then one day I had a call from one of them, "when are we going to shoot this picture"?

It was October, and though the days were bright and sunny it was very cold and with morning frosts just starting.
I replied that I didn't know if it was a good idea as it was so cold, but "I would if she would".
We agreed we would try the next day, on the understanding that if the water was too cold
then she wouldn't do it.

The water was freezing, but much to my delight and eternal gratitude the lovely girl decided to go ahead and immerse herself.
The location was a small stream about a mile from the gallery [I didn't at the time, but now I live with this stream running just a few yards from my door].
Alice O'Mahoney is the name of the model and I will never forget that cold bright morning
when complete in 'Tudor' costume she lay down in the shallow stream.
I intended to just take a few shots of her so that she could get out of the water and then intended to take more pictures later, as I knew that the finished picture would have to be built as a montage of different shots.
I took about 5 pictures then announced "OK, that's it get out before you freeze".
As she climbed out of the stream I realised to my horror that her clothes were still dry on the front, because of course [true to the painting] she had laid on her back.
" No good, you will have to do it again, you are supposed to have drowned, you need to be wet all over".
Without a murmur poor Alice stepped back into the stream and fully immersed herself.

This time I decided that I would really have to concentrate and make sure that I got the pictures that I was after. I became so involved with checking the camera settings, getting the angles right I forgot about Alice until through clenched teeth she whispered
"please hurry up I'm so cold".
I felt awful, I had totally forgotten about the young woman, alive and very cold, laying in a stream on a winter morning. To me she had become the drowned woman of the painting.

So we [friends] got her out of the water and took her indoors for a shower and a hot "cuppa".

Later in the day we shook hands and agreed that if ever anything [good] happened with the
picture we would share the proceeds.
The making of the picture was published in a photography magazine but no payment was offered, and to this day there has never been any commercial interest in it.
Alice went on to become an archaeologist and I a gallery owner.
But I will never forget that exciting day, the wonderful girl, and of course the finished picture.

I went back the next day and took many more "detail" photographs
[ including the plastic flowers that I planted].
As I took these pictures a Robin kept flying from branch to branch and appeared in many of my snaps. So many times I decided to leave the bird in the finished picture,
which was made up from 36 different photographs.
I'm glad that I did, because much later I was told by an artist friend
"He loved the fact that I had included THE Robin".
I looked again at the original painting, and there unknown to me was a Robin,
observing the drowned Ophelia.
Obviously some things are meant to happen.

Above is the final picture along with a couple of "on the way" montages and two of poor Alice
drying herself and 'on route' for a shower.

Thank you Alice, I haven't forgotten our "handshake", maybe one day someone will buy the picture and make your efforts worthwhile.


  1. What a fascinating thing to do! The photographs are really beautiful, and I'm very much reminded of the scene in "Anne of Green Gables" where Anne tries to recreate Tennyson's "Lady of Shalott" by drifting off in a boat. Of course the boat sinks and she rescued by Gilbert Blythe. Come to think of it, you could attempt Waterhouse's "Lady of Shalott" next - one of my favourite paintings! It's great to explore art like this. I suppose the books I write about "Katie" kind of bring art to life (I hope!) as well...

  2. James, you obviously didn't see an earlier post that I did, the day that I lost the contents of my computer.
    I had been working on finishing my version of " Lady of Shalott"
    [which was a story in itself"] I had been working on it for 22 hours over two days and was about 30 minutes away from finishing it.
    Although it sounds concieted I'm not ashamed to say I really liked it. Then the computer froze, I switched it off then on but it had died for good.
    Along with most of my work.
    A young man at 'Apple' said that it might be possible to recover the
    contents but he wouldn't advise on where to go as it was against company policy.
    Maybe one day I will find someone who can do it, but until that day
    the picture remains frozen in my mind.
    It is one of my favourite paintings and I was pleased with my different "yet the same" take on it.
    My greatest regret is the girl in the picture never even got to have a glimpse of it.

  3. I love this post, especially as this is one of my favourite of Millais' paintings. I found your process fascinating, especially the many shots that go to make up the final picture. Thank you for sharing :)