The Eakins Project, 2007 – 2009
I am fascinated with how the invention of photography changed the vary nature of how we see the world and subsequently forever altered the role of the painter as the primary documentarian of our visual world. The great American painter, photographer and teacher Thomas Eakins’ practice represents the perfect fulcrum for this change, where from a point of rest a change is set in motion.
I was first exposed to Eakins’ photographs at an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum in Art in 2002. Several years later, I was astounded by a set of Eakins photos that were on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I had previously painted images by the 19th C. photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who first captured images of figures in motion. But Eakins represented the fusion of both painting and photography. As I learned more about Eakins I wanted to recycle his images that were never used as sources for paintings. In 2005, I received permission by the Met’s photography department to come to NY with my camera to re-photograph their entire collection of Eakins photographs. In handling these objects, I felt a kinship with him as a teacher and artist. I was struck by the originality of his investigation as well as the beauty and honesty of these images and objects. Eakins was interested in exploiting the capabilities of this new technology, the camera was a new mechanical image capture device that could be used by the painter. For Eakins, the camera was also a teaching device comparable to anatomical drawing that served as a valuable tool for the “modern” artist. I wanted to recontexualize and recycle his analog camera investigations and combine them with the “new” modern” technology of digital scanned image capture. This work examines how we look and see ourselves while respecting and reinterpreting the academic tradition of figure painting.