No art form exists in isolation. From cinema to photography to fashion, every field of the arts blurs with and borrows from every other.
This sharing of inspiration is both fruitful and natural. It makes sense that one type of artist would inspire another – and often it’s when these genre boundaries come down that truly beautiful things happen.
For a perfect example, you need only look at the breathtaking imagery that’s created when photographers use their medium to reinterpret classical paintings.
By transferring the ideas of the painter from canvas to camera, they give them new life and dimension.
At the same time, paying homage to iconic artworks is a way to immediately grab the viewer with a sense of familiarity and an echo of the emotion they felt when they saw those artworks for the first time.
So if you’re a photographer who’s stuck for inspiration, don’t be afraid to borrow from the greats. Experiment with your photographic style – try something unique and edgy, such as glitch art, or even use an app to turn a photo into a painting.
Check out the list below of eight contemporary photographers who found inspiration in the art of painting and used it to create their own stunning photography works.
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1. Sir John Everett Millais and Gregory Crewdson
Ophelia is one of the most famous works of art created by the British painter Sir John Everett Millais. In the painting, you can see one of the main heroines from William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. She’s gracefully floating down a river in Denmark just before the moment she drowns in the water.
The painting got mixed reviews from the critics, but it’s still recognized nowadays as one of the most significant artworks of the mid-nineteenth century.
Decades later it was Gregory Crewdson who got inspired by the mesmerizing Ophelia and recreated the painting from a contemporary perspective.
The result is a breathtaking image – elaborately staged to support its haunting narrative. If you’re a fan of this visual style I recommend checking out “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters”, a documentary about the author and about his vision.
2. Gustav Klimt and Inge Prader
Gustav Klimt is a well- known name in the art world. He’s famous for his symbolic paintings which have inspired generations of visual artists after his death in 1918.
He was active during his whole career, but his most successful period was called the Golden Phase. During this peak moment he created what is probably his most prominent work: The Kiss.
The sparkling light from his Golden Phase turned out to be a great source of inspiration for Inge Prader, who made a stunning contemporary interpretation of Klimt’s art.
The Austrian photographer brought the paintings to life using real-life models, intricate costumes and well-composed beautiful light.
3. Sandro Botticelli and Giuseppe Gradella
The Birth of Venus is a work of art by the Italian painter Sandro Botticelli and it’s one of the symbols of the Renaissance era.
It depicts Venus, who was the goddess of love in Roman mythology (she was actually the Roman counterpart to the Greek goddess Aphrodite). In the painting, you can see her arriving at the shore shortly after she was born in the sea.
This painting is surely so famous that it has a great number of visual interpretations out there by various artists, but the one I’ve chosen deserves special attention. It appears to literally put Venus in a time machine and transfer her to our modern age.
The author of this contemporary Venus vision is the Italian photographer Giuseppe Gradella. The portrait is part of his photo series called “Italian Renaissance”. There you can see many more famous portraits which prove how one art form can inspire another and how they can be beautifully mixed up together.
4. Edward Hopper and Richard Tuchman
Widely acknowledged as the most significant realist painter of the US in the twentieth century, Edward Hopper holds a special place in the heart of many photographers nowadays.
The name of this painting is Hotel by a Railroad and it’s a typical example of his style – subtle and unobtrusive, yet powerful.
Captivated by the atmosphere in his artworks, Richard Tuschman created his tribute photo series called Hopper Meditations.
The technique which the photographer uses here is impressive, to say the least (as well as the results!). The images are made by digitally combining dollhouse-size dioramas with real models. He also shares:
The sets I built, painted and photographed in my studio. A lot of the furniture is standard dollhouse furniture, but some I made myself. I then photographed the live models against a plain backdrop, and lastly, made the digital composites in Photoshop.
5. Rene Magritte and Logan Zillmer
When it comes to replications and reinterpretations, the Belgian artist Rene Magritte holds one of the top spots. The existential questions he poses along with his distinctive minimalistic style are an inspiring starting point for many creative photographers across the globe.
Logan Zillmer is definitely one of those photographers. Although his work is strongly influenced by Magritte, it has its own character. His photos tend to look a bit more on the bright side with a touch of humour and optimism.
This clearly shows in his composite photograph titled Looking for Sun, which is very reminiscent of Magritte’s popular painting Golconda – only this time, the main character is not dressed in black with a bowler hat. Zillmer’s protagonist is more like the kind of guy you would bump into on your way to work in the morning, but with a peculiar quest: to find the sun.
6. Sir Frederic Leighton and Annie Leibovitz
Flaming June is the name of Sir Frederic Leighton’s masterpiece painting which was created in 1895. It portrays a young woman who’s sleeping gracefully – the image of her is simply mesmerizing with the richness of its colours.
It’s believed that her figure evokes parallels with the sleeping nymphs and also with the naiads (in Greek mythology naiads are a form of a female spirit who dwells around fresh water).
On her right side, there’s an oleander flower which is poisonous and it was most probably placed there to emphasize the fragile link between sleep and death.
The famous contemporary photographer who gave new life to this ethereal painting with her photography is Annie Leibovitz. The photo was created especially for Vogue and it features the talented actress Jessica Chastain (who has been twice nominated for an Academy Award for best actress).
7. Egon Schiele and Peter Lindberg
There’s a truly starry trio involved with this one: the Austrian painter Egon Schiele, the successful American actress Julianne Moore, and the German fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh.
Egon Schiele was one of the great painters of the early 20th century. The twisted body forms he created, marked with raw intensity and magnetism, formed his distinctive artistic style – the kind of style to leave a trace in history and to draw attention.
Nearly a hundred years after Schiele’s death one of his most honoured paintings, Seated Woman with Bent Knee, was recreated by the renowned contemporary photographer Peter Lindbergh.
Peter Lindbergh recently left our world but will be always remembered as one of the most influential fashion photographers who inspired others to embrace the imperfections of the model instead of wiping them out with a brush in post-production.
8. Frida Kahlo and Fredrik Wannerstedt
Frida Kahlo is a Mexican artist known for her portrait work and mostly for her self-portraits. She was influenced by the indigenous Mexican culture and her paintings were deeply symbolic.
Kahlo often included repeating elements in her work, such as flowers, birds and monkeys which were depicted in bright vivid colours.
This magical realism turned out to be a pure source of inspiration for the Stockholm-based photographer Fredrik Wannerstedt. In his fashion photoshoot he recreated one of Frida Kahlo’s most famous self-portraits.
The vibrant colours he uses along with the mystical light really make for a remarkable personal interpretation that is both a tribute, but at the same time a highly creative image by itself.