Category Archives: photograph

Thoughts on Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring was an intereseting read considering the fact that I had seen the movie years back and quite liked it. It was a pleasant suprise because I hadn’t quite warmed up to Tracy Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn which was my introuction to the author

Spoilers ahead for the book and the movie.

It is 1665. The story is told by sixteen year old Griet who comes to work as a maid in the Vermeer household to support her family. Vermeer, the artist, takes a fancy to her because she understands art.

The house is run by the the matriarch, the wife’s mother who single-handedly managed the household. Although Vermeer was a good artist he was not the best man to provide for his family. Vermeer worked at his own pace. He was moody and temperamental even though the entire house was in debt and his paintings were the only source of income.

Life was tough in a way the population with access to modern healthcare wouldn’t understand. There was no method of contraception and it was one baby on the way after another whether you can afford it or want it.

Griet was a strong character for her the times she lived in. The name Grit would be apt for her because she is gutsy and resilient. She is sharp and observes things which would elude a casual onlooker.

I was delighted to see Antony van Leeuwenhoek in Girl with a Pearl Earring. He was Vermeer’s friend. I was happy to see a microbiologist in a novel about an artist. Seeing Antony van Leeuwenhoek as a character took me back to my student days.

I confess I had never heard the term camera obscura before. Shameful because I call myself an amateur photographer (the amateur bit does take the sting out of it). Of course my grandpa knew what camera obscura was. He was an engineer and a photographer, and unlike me a person who understands technicalities well.

A painting which isn’t a painting. The word photograph is yet to be invented because the camera hasn’t been invented yet. What a world it must have been. Since something cannot be captured there is no choice except to draw or paint what fascinated them.  A while ago I had read Julian Barnes’ Levels of Life where I got a peek into a world where photography was being invented.

It is not new wanting to save memories which have an impact on us. The word nostalgia means a great deal to us humans. Hence the need for keepsakes. When we write we do the same thing. Capturing a moment, a place, a situation, an experience, a time.

It was fascinating the way he tried to make Griet a part of his life – in charge of cleaning his studio, making her understand what an image was. He valued her opinion sensing her intelligence. He allowed her near his beloved colours, to make them, to buy them. He trusted her with his art, he took her suggestions into account and respected her opinions. Intellectually he treated her differently from a maid but the class difference remained. He was in a position of power so he did order her about and forced her to do things.

It’s interesting to see the interplay between their characters, Vermeer and Griet, the artist and the observer who later on becomes the subject. Griet is unusually quiet but she challenged Vermeer in her own way. She played many roles – muse, helper, and model. The relationship of the muse with the artist is fraught with complications and has no clear boundaries. Where does feeling stop and art begin? Can one draw in a completely detached manner from the subject? Would the essence be conveyed? The artist moves on. What of the muse who is caught up in the process unknowingly? Is the subject or the muse (in this case the same person) allowed to feel or have a say in how she is going to be portrayed? All these questions came up while reading the book and I don’t have any anwers.

The book gives us a picture of her life after she leaves the Vermeer household unlike the movie, which shows no clear resolution and leaves it to the audience. The movie shows more moments between them, paint a more romantic picture than it really is. Griet’s family makes her a well rounded character in the book but her family barely makes an apperance in the movie. The movie has more dialogue naturally as opposed to the book in which silences abounded.

A world of restraint, of veneers and facades. The beauty of the book and the movie is in its restraint, in the things left unsaid.

Have you read the book or seen the movie?

 

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Girl with a Pearl Earring spotted at a book fair
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We never change

“A photograph can be an instant of life captured for eternity that will never cease looking back at you.” ― Brigitte Bardot

I am lounging on my bed, reading beside the window, the afternoon light illumining my pages and I feel a wave of drowsiness sweep over me. That is what happens when you have a large lunch and settle down to read quietly. It seems like the perfect time for a short nap. Suddenly my phone beeps and I am not in the present anymore but thrust into the murky waters of the past without any preamble. Photographs, like words, take you back in time but the effect is immediate and  jarring, if it is something unpleasant. 

In the photograph I see a place both intimately familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I am back at the university. In an instant I see myself as I was then and the past comes tumbling back. Old memories return, sad and joyous moments shared, fast friendships and swift betrayals, friends in unexpected places(amid ingratiating sycophants), having the most unlikeliest people stand by in their own way.

Suddenly I am the same girl, who rarely spoke out of turn, even though it was not my nature to be silent when something unjust was being done.The girl who mostly kept her head down and  worked, weighed down by the collective responsibility on her shoulders. The girl who was a dyed-in-the-wool romantic that crash landed into reality and didn’t know how to deal with that seismic shift. The girl who didn’t question the motives behind people’s actions and took everyone at their word. The girl who came out of that place with her soul undivided (if not intact) but her heart bruised (if not broken). I am that girl and yet, I feel strangely far removed from her.

I have always prided myself on cutting off something unpleasant as soon as I see it rearing its ugly head but truly moving on, closing the chapter in the book of life (clichéd I know) takes time, more time than I’d like to admit.There is no pain now, only a vague recollection of the past events and the memories have faded (the slow swirl of time) but not entirely gone. Yet.

What is the purpose of these memories being retained in the inner recesses of our brains? (Watch Pixar’s fabulous Inside Out to know more!) Do they serve as reminders so that we do not make the same mistakes again? 
But we never change,do we.