The Accidental Degas

The other night, at a gala dinner, I dropped into some fashion models. With the camera at home, the iPhone was completely overwhelmed. It resulted in a totally failed image that breaks about all known rules of photography basics — but has kind of something to it. Made me think of Edgar Degas’ Danseuses Bleues. The French impressionist wasn’t concerned with razor-sharp detail and spot-on color, and his technique doesn’t lessen the experience. On the contrary.

Be it back then in the 19th century or today, good visuals evoke something in the beholder. Degas painted several versions of blue dancers, knowing he was onto something. Below’s my preferred one. Now this derived contemporary iPhone impressionism is not all that far-fetched, or is it. Right, the juxtapositions are nowhere near Degas’… What if those masters would have had iPhones? We’d probably never enjoy Danseuses Bleues today.

First the original, then the modern-day “interpretation” — or asked differently, is this still photography?

Edgar Degas' "Danseuses Bleues" painted in the second half of the 19th century...
The original: Edgar Degas’ “Danseuses Bleues” painted in the second half of the 19th century. And then there’s…

... and "Danseuses in Blanches et Oranges," a contemporary iPhone equivalent to the masterpiece.
… “Danseuses in Blanches et Oranges,” a contemporary iPhone equivalent to the masterpiece.


  • Bengt Nyman

    Excellent !
    Any effects or post processing ?

    • Increased whites a bit and temperature in Camera Raw, otherwise untouched.

  • Michael D

    I have a few favorite cell phone photos, and like this one, they involve low-light, impressionistic “failures”, shot in near darkness, when I shouldn’t have bothered to try to shoot anything. Such as http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdarnton/4977795605/

    • Intriguing.

      • Michael D

        I did have to mess with levels in PhotoShop to draw that out of the darkness of the original.

        What I think happens with my phone in the normal mode is that the system bottoms out at the equivalent of EI250, 1/15, f/2. Darker than that, it works by taking the underexposed image and doing the equivalent of pushing the two right levels sliders increasingly to the left. Eventually, noise takes over and the photo disintegrates into expressionism. It’s a reliable phenomenon, and I see your phone was just starting to do that. Basically, it’s worth playing with your phone camera in darkness so deep you couldn’t, for instance, read a menu, and seeing what you get.

        Another:
        http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdarnton/5129350438/

  • Robert Mark

    I really like the image, but I’ve learned from other forums that it’s not possible to create art without 15 pounds of FULL FRAME camera gear. Sadly that means the image is a total FAIL.

    • And I thought I found a first and new career in “failed photography”… The antithesis to this is: every image might be worth something, just depends on the angle, crop, PP and openness of the beholder’s mind.