david hockney, ophelia and critiquing paintings

**this was written this past spring, just got around to sharing it! Also. Please read in a British accent. It will sound way smarter! That is all. Cheers!

Right now I am in London shooting for one of my U.S. based commercial clients for the week and am just wrapping up today. We had some amazing meals, tasty fruity ciders that I HOPE we can find back in the states, and have done a great job for our client. All in all? A solid, pretty amazing week!

Some highlights so far (we still have a week in Paris left!) have been going to some pretty established and amazing museums. The first one we hit up was The Royal Academy of Arts for the David Hockney exhibit. Now, I have a BFA in Photojournalism from RIT. With that, I have had many, many hours of art history classes, many of which I really enjoyed aside from my generally weak memory. People throw names at me and get all pretentious when I say I don’t know some artist or another. Please. Show me their work and it’s done. I totally remember. Now someone who I may or may not have studied or heard of before was David Hockney. Go on, guffaw away, laugh. Get all full of yourselves and your good memories. No, sorry I don’t remember him. He does have a cool name to say, so I think I would remember him, but.. I don’t.

We spent a lot of time asking the locals here what they suggested for us to see in our short time here, and one of the things that someone really felt strongly about was checking out the Hockney exhibit. I was down for checking out some art, and to be honest the banners they had were full of color and I felt pretty good about going and liking it.

So we walk in, and I couldn’t have felt more disappointed in that first gallery if I tried! I was so annoyed by what I saw: amateurish paintings with really no  solid sense of composition (at least that I found appealing) and little to no technique. My father could paint circles around this guy! What makes him so great that his work is here, and MOBS of people were here to see it? I hear people oo-ing and ahh-ing over this totally BGS painting of the Grand Canyon and felt enraged! And then I stopped, and asked myself why was I so mad about it? It’s not like he left a scrabble of hair trimmings in a pile on a chair and tried to call it art. (that is a whole other level of fine art annoyance) So I stopped. I challenged myself (much like I do to my workshop attendees) to find something I LIKED. Not ignoring what I didn’t like and why, but recognizing what was bugging me so much and figuring out why I didn’t like it. Then moving on to something that I found appealing, and really analyzing why I liked it.

This proved to be one of the most fun things I have done for my photography brain in such a long, long time!! I felt giddy when I realized the things that I was drawn to in paintings were much like what I appreciated in photography. Why would it be any different? you ask? To me though, it felt like I had unlocked some little puzzle in my brain that is letting me move on to the next artistic level and really stretch out and try some new things, all within the safety of knowing what I like and why. Yet, at the same time really challenging myself to go almost in the opposite direction.

Some of the things I decided I liked and respected about Hockney’s work was his love of a theme. He loved painting roads, and trees, and having roots to what he was painting. 1) One thing I love. I loooooove me a theme, baby! Tie that shit together for me! Bring it full circle! Score 1 for you if you do, it will get you somewhere with me! He had some highs and some lows for me, the most highest of points to me was his bold and crazy use of color in his painting Winter Timber. 2) Color me bad baby, I loooooove purposeful color! I especially love when color is used in a tricker and more subtle monochromatic way, that gets me right… there! Hockney dabbled in both, with lots of greens throughout the whole exhibit.

One low point overall… where was his technique. Where was it? In general there were large parts of his exhibit where I was just not impressed with his technique. It didn’t feel purposefully child-like,whimsical or raw. There was no ‘why’ to this to me that made any visual sense, and it bugged me. Maybe more so than any other thing that I didn’t like. So I reflected on this for a while… and came to the conclusion that in photography now, this is something that really gets under my skin. Untrained and amateurish photographers decide to jump in with both feet doing what I do, at grossly skewed prices and skill level and get lumped into the same big pot of ‘wedding photographers’ as I do. We are apples to oranges, please do not compare us!

And then I realized… maybe it was this that is at the root of what I was getting annoyed at and was thinly veiled annoyance at poor David Hockney’s big exhibit in London with mobs of people validating his talent. Which brings me to number 3) on my list: be purposeful. Get some skills! You can shoot out of focus if you can show me that you can shoot tack sharp first! Learn the rules, understand the rules, master the rules, then break them! Homeboy just did not do that for me in the first exhibit hall. But I am happy to say that I now know what I did not like and why! A very important lesson for me.

All in all, I was pretty glad that I went, I feel like I really learned a lot about myself, and how my brain works and felt overall pretty validated in my likes and dislikes.

Which leads me to the Tate Britain. Home of Ophelia by Millias. Let me take a moment here.


MAN I love this painting. Yes, it is SO depressing with the whole dead lady part of it, but it is so expertly done! And there are stories in the painting, and little hidden secrets! And a back story about the model who posed in a bathtub of freezing water and ended up getting really really sick because of it! All of it. I just love it all so so much! It brought so much full circle for me, since I have been collecting pieces of Ophelia-themed art over the years. It is a great theme, so visually powerful and universal. What a high I was on seeing this gem of a piece!!! In seeing this, and connecting to all of the things about it that made me understand why I loved it, it helped me understand why I was struggling with not loving a big part of Hockney’s exhibit. And in turn, filled my head with many, many ideas for shoots that are already in the works! I am SO INSPIRED and so ready to shoot things just for fun and for myself to fulfill this thing in me that I feel I have no control over. Photography is who I am, it is how I think, I feel like I am sometimes on the sidelines of my own brain in how it takes over and has a life of its own in my head. All I have to do is just get that small little seed of an idea and think but for a second and BAM! It’s out and ready to go!

As Sam’s Dad who we in the pub said tonight in a very strong British accent ‘Wow, that is some life you are living now isn’t it?’


  1. what an amazing trip that was. You brought me right back to all those moments with you. London, we miss you! Can’t wait to see the shoots you have in the works!

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