Past masters and expressive photography

by Ann de Bruyn

Francesco Carovillano

Francesco Carovillano

Through nature and image-making I keep discovering who I am. The more I grow older, the more these two things merge together. My love for crafting images started at 15 years old while passionately studying graphics and animation in my spare time. Straight after high school, I began to work as an animator and layout artist on movies.

After a decade working for several animation studios across Europe, I felt the need to personally and unrestrictedly express myself through images. I quit my job and moved into full-time landscape photography. I relocated to France, near the forest of Fontainebleau, and started a personal exploration within myself through nature photography.

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It is commonly said that a way to foresee the future is to study the past. I believe this is also valid when it comes to better relating our daily choices with the present time, including choices about photography.

Since I started to dive deeper into the expressive power of image composition through nature photography, I felt a strong desire to know more about the great artists from the past, especially landscape painters. Beyond getting to know their masterpieces, my main interest lies in comprehending their life decisions and how they shaped their artistic journey. From their beginnings to filling entire museum halls. I wanted to know it all, so I knew, I’ll never be done.

We knew their greatest feats but we don’t know anything about their personal life: How did they organise their days? Were they happy about their artistic output? Who taught them composition? Did they ever doubt themselves? Were they struggling with their parents' judgement? Did they have a supportive wife or partner? Were they part of a group of close minded artists or solitary outcasts in their pursuits?

Once we start to know a bit about any past master, a funny game to play is to imagine how they would act towards today’s modern life. Do you picture the introvert Vincent Van Gogh posting his painting on social media? And, can you imagine the number of vulgarities that Cézanne would have said if he didn’t appreciate the brushwork? (yes, he was quite direct).

Seriously, It can be quite illuminating and even liberating to perceive what they would care or not care about in today’s reality. Although from a technological standpoint their life would have been simpler, they had to face some of the same problems that we also face today, but on top of that, they also had problems we won’t have to face in the same way as them, precisely because they fought those battles for us.

This made me realise that the problems they faced were the right problems to challenge. As already said, some of those problems will always be challenging for us too. Such as problems about finding inspiration, tranquillity, and purposeful ambitions to convert into artistic authenticity and meaningful creative advancements.

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Personally, I find this new understanding to be indeed revealing and liberating. Besides, allowing us to get to know how they made space for creativity and pursued their subjective idea of meaningful art, it frees us from the false notion that they were simply born genius.

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