The Modern Art Movememt: Cubism

I’m posting excepts from my new book Composition for Photographers here. To check it out, look here:

A lot of the book centers around the Modern Art movement, which lasted from roughly the 1860s to the 1970s. This first posting is about Cubism.

The origin of Cubism is credited to Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Picasso was a central Cubist figure to be sure, but closely related was George Braque. Braque and Picasso were contemporaries and they profoundly changed the world of Modern Art.  

I was blown away when I first saw Cubist paintings, pioneered in the work of Pablo Picasso and Georges Barque. Luckily as photographers we have all the tools we need to produce work in this movement. A Cubist work of art utilizes simple geometric shapes, multiple planes and multiple perspectives to produce an image.

First we need to understand the space and logic behind a Cubist painting. To begin with, space is compressed and two dimensional. Unlike a traditional, realist style of painting with depth, a Cubist painting avoids it. The concepts of foreground, mid-ground and background and perspective are minimized if present at all.

Multiple perspectives are usually present in a Cubist painting. When we look at an object, such as a figure, still life, or landscape, we see it in three dimensions and one of three basic perspectives, one point, two point or three point. Cubism throws that singular view away. A cubist piece typically contains multiple perspectives of the same object. The artist selects areas of a subject that interests him or her and varies the point of view, distance to the subject and utilizes several different positions to produce a final work. All these variances in perception, point of view and rendering of a subject are presented in shards, or geometric shapes that on a whole make sense.

Here’s a simple example of Cubism.

I originally shot the nude and colored it in a traditional, Dutch Masters style. I really liked the soft, deep flesh tones. Then I broke up the image into several squares and rectangles. The process is very easy, but the placement of the rectangles is not, which takes some thought. This is about as simple as a Cubist image can be. There are no random geometric “shards” so to speak, only rectangles and squares. There is only one perspective or point of view in the image. I strayed from the dogmatic Cubist style since there is depth and shadow in the skin tones, but I did that on purpose. I wanted to juxtapose a classic viewpoint with a modernist one.

Image Production Notes

The nude was shot with a Canon 5D Mark III and a 50mm lens. This image was processed in Affinity Photo using the same technique as in the Henry Moore abstraction. I first processed the background by decreasing the exposure and increasing the saturation to get a deep flesh tone, then added rectangle layers. I used two pixel wide borders on the rectangles to make them distinct but not obtrusive.

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