Recently, we’ve seen a bunch of upscaled and colorized historic footage: from 1911 New York to 1972 Apollo 16 Lunar Rover ride. Even videos as old as the iconic 1896 The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station are possible to upscale to 4K and get a splash of color. While many of us find them inspiring and exciting, historians don’t seem to share the opinion. In fact, they argue that the whole process is “nonsense” and they’d like YouTubers to stop doing it.
If you were to mention the term ‘formal analysis’ to an art historian today, you’d probably be told it’s passé. No one really tries to objectively compare one painting against another using formal concepts anymore. However, formal analysis—or the concepts that it identified—does still present some interesting ideas, especially for photographers.
Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin was a key figure in formal methodology. He devised a system that compared opposing artistic concepts so that they could be applied to paintings and used to analyse them. In particular, Wölfflin was interested in trying to characterise Renaissance and Baroque art.
One pair of comparators used by Wölflinn was closed form against open form. While I’m doubtful you’re set on recreating Renaissance or Baroque pictures, knowing what the terms mean, and how they can be applied to your photos and make your audience feel about them, is useful.