Looking at backgrounds

I was not expecting this tweet to get retweeted. That it generated unsolicited questions about my point of view was an even bigger surprise.

Fra Angelico

But yes, with “old masters” paintings often time the subjects don’t interest me nearly as much as the backgrounds. Yes, I can appreciate the beauty and vitality of the way people and gestures are rendered. It’s not difficult to compare the grace and movement in the Botticelli Annunciation with the Fra Angelico’s more realistic rendition.* I’m much more fascinated by the settings—in this case the view out the window in the Botticelli and the architectural space in the Fra Angelico.

*In this case, as pretty as the Botticelli is, I much prefer the seriousness of the angel conveying the news to Mary that she’s been knocked up. And I love that Mary looks as if she already has morning sickness.

Do most people notice the river, castle, and bridge on the background? Or that there’s an empty room behind Mary? Probably not. But those are all there on purpose. The details have been chose for a reason and it’s a lot of fun to think about. When the background include city details, you can also start to see depictions and documentation of architecture and technology which most people just miss.

I do this with photography too. Backgrounds and settings are documents of the past and tell us different things than what the image is ostensibly about.

Hyperallergic’s post is a textbook example of how to do animated GIFs well.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

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