Rembrandt, Art, and Cinematography

by Emon Hassan on October 12, 2008

I don’t quite remember how I’d come to put this BBC series on queue on Netflix. The 5-star ratings from almost reviewer must have been it. So when discs 1, 2, and 3 came I wasn’t in the same mood I was in when I’d put them on hold. I often get in the mood for a certain topic or genre and go nuts with finding books and videos. Sometimes they don’t last and I end up removing the items on hold.

Remember Sister Wendy‘s series? After that one I’d rarely ever come across a series on art or artists that had my attention for long. It’s in the writing, stupid. Great writing trumps and triumphs, didn’t you know? I’d never heard of Simon Schama and I didn’t care much for his series this weekend – the same when I’m toying with a work of art of its own – that phone by the fruit company.

All that changed. I’ve spent the early part of Saturday evening hungry for exhibitions in New York; I’d last been to the Met…can’t even remember. Schama’s episode on Rembrandt has stirred in me an urge to go out and do something, make something, capture something. All that? Was it that good?

I knew very little about Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Liked his work although haven’t seen much. Perhaps liked him more because some of my favorite Cinematographers [Sven Nykvist (called Rembrandt of film), Conrad Hall (also called the same), Vittorio Storaro,(hello, The Conformist!) and the Prince of Darkness himself, Gordon Willis just to name a few] love his work and worked all their lives trying to capture what he was able to with the interplay of light and shadow. After all, light and shadow in the hands of masters makes pictures…great pictures, great art rather than good art, even stories! He, Rembrandt, knew shadow was not simply where light didn’t reach, it was what was not ready to come to light. All you need to do is watch the great – great – Visions of Light and see how influential Rembrandt has been to Cinematography – and will be.

Perhaps via all those Cinematographers and Photographers, or their stories and lessons have, in turn, influenced me. Stories with shadows have always fascinated me. I have a tendency to make my images darker. Too much light, I guess I believed subconsciously, meant I knew it all too much too soon.

What this documentary did for me is that it made me look at the same paintings of the master in a new light (mm hmm). I had to be a certain age, or maturity I guess, to ‘read’ the same images I’d seen before. Reading images takes one to grow up and growing out of seeing things ‘normally’. Lines and shape give form and everyone can create them but not all are able to capture what those same lines are meant to.

No, that’s not it. The reason I saw what I saw was because I listened to these paintings this time. The same portraits now spoke; the slight gesture of the left hand, the twinkle in the eye, the face trying but failing to hide the person behind the portrait. It was almost as if Schama’s voice was my own, my inner thoughts- the teacher and the voice of reason, as the world of Rembrandt was opening up to me. The impact was powerful.

I haven’t been able to find any clip of the Rembrandt episode but to get an idea of how Schama’s presentation grabs you and sucks you in, here’s a section of the episode about Caravaggio, another artist influencing many Cinematographers. I’ve become a big fan of Schama and this post is dedicated to him. I haven’t been feeling inspired to take photographs for the past few weeks and this has me inspired and pumped! Am going to read his Rough Crossings.

Here it is, clip from Power of Art’s Caravaggio.

Previous post:

Next post: