Last month I shared my Chuck Close self portrait from my ‘Good Artists Copy, Bad Artists Steal’ photography project. This month sees me take on a rather more ambitious task as I attempt to steal from one of the most famous portraits of all time, Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Girl With the Pearl Earring.’
The ambiguity of Vermeer’s subject allowed me to interpret her according to my own terms. Her head scarf suggests an infusion of cultures which is something I wanted too play on. I stood in front of the mirror wrapping items of clothing around my head, desperately trying to perfect them. I wanted to steal the shape of the head piece but add an element of exotic pattern in keeping with the ‘otherness’ presence in the costume. I had my flatmate’s mini skirt knotted together with a pillowcase to create this almost turban like head dress.
The girl in vermeer’s painting is famous for her earring. There are so many questions about the huge pearl sat in her ear. I wanted to turn these on their head by replacing the pearl with a chandelier earring, what I thought was most different to a pearl and suited the head piece more. While doing this I began to think what would happen if she wasn’t wearing a pearl? Would there have been books written about her, or queues to visit her? I replaced the earring to encourage the viewer to question what would happen without it. Surely something as small as a pearl earring can’t be attributed to her fame.
My biggest challenge was re creating the soft light that Vermeer captures with his glowing paintwork. I had a series of lamps set up on one side of the room so that they could light up one side of my face against the make shift black paper background. To capture this I couldn’t use flash on my camera so I had to stand still enough so that the picture didn’t blur, but then move the slightest amount to get that painterly, almost grainy effect that Vermeer perfected with a brush.
The meditative look over the shoulder that the subject is so famous for suggests many different things for the viewer. Would they like it as much if she happened to be in another pose? Surely Vermeer tried her out in a few different poses before he decided on this one.
I tried to reinact what these poses could have been to remind the viewer that the subject in this picture is not static like her portrait. The painting is such a famous image we often assume in our minds that this is how she always looked. This one image has become her entire identity. In reality of course this is a posed picture, it is not how she would have naturally been as Vermeer would have instructed her on how to dress and sit for the painting. She has a story. Although it is one that is now forgotten. A story nobody knows, which perhaps is even more exciting for the viewer as we can make one up about her. We are free to interpret her as we like; to make her our own.