Capturing Bill Henson
Take a closer look at contemporary photographer Bill Henson’s work through his influences and his methods
Bill Henson’s technical and aesthetic approach sets him apart from other contemporary photographers and he cites a variety of historical painters as influences in his work.
Influences from master painters:
Johannes Vermeer – Dutch High Renaissance artist of 17th century (1600’s) – Bill Henson is inspired by the use of diagonal lines and windows of light in Vermeer’s interiors and portraits. This can be seen in Henson’s 1994/95 (collage) series.
Titian – Italian Renaissance artist of 16th century – the busyness and chaotic yet harmonious compositions in Titian’s group portraits and battle scenes are a visual influence and the rich tonalism of the treatment of the figure regardless whether the subject is violent or sensual.
Rembrandt – Dutch High Renaissance artist of 17th century (1600’s) – The style of lighting seen in many of Henson’s portraits, especially in The Paris Opera Project is known as chiaroscuro (an Italian term coined during the Renaissance) or Rembrandt lighting – named after one of the most famous High Renaissance portrait painters, Rembrandt. This type of lighting featured strong light on one side, which creates a shadow on the other.
Antoine Watteau – French Rococo artist of the 17th century – Watteau’s sumptuous paintings often combined landscape and groups of figures to show scenes symbolising fertility and love. His use of a warm colour scheme vignette by darker borders is seen in many of Henson’s colour landscape photographs.
In a 2000 interview with Janet Hawley, Henson stated "One of the great problems with the nature of photography is that people are accustomed to seeing a photograph as authoritative evidence, as proof of something." Unlike many traditional photographers who aim for high resolution and fine detail, Henson’s use of high grain and low resolution give a textural, soft and painterly feel like the masters who inspire him.