LeBron at the Garden
Chiaroscuro & Tenebrism
NBA photographer Nat Butler - who’s been documenting the league since ‘84 and is the man behind many of the legendary photos we’ve come to venerate - posted the below shot from yesterday’s matchup between the Lakers & Knicks.
At some point I’ll chat with Nat about how he got the shot, but for now, I want to take you through how I came up with the pairing. It’s immediately clear that two things need to be captured to make a post of this work; the emotion on LeBron’s face, and the black background. I didn’t immediately know the perfect piece of art, but it was clear that for the black background, I’d have a good shot looking at art in either ‘Chiaroscuro’ or ‘Tenebrism.’
Chiaroscuro is a technique that utilizes light and shadows to create depth, where works can appear ‘3D’ and lifelike. The technique was first utilized in the Renaissance, but is now more associated with Baroque. Artists like Caravaggio (below), Georges de La Tour, and Joseph Wright of Derby are all known for their heavy use of chiaroscuro.
However, the background of the photo of LeBron is all black, which signals a close relative of chiaroscuro, tenebrism. Where the former uses a light source to establish depth, the latter goes all dark with the background.
Knowing that, I started to poke around various tenebrism works, and quickly landed on the following, St Paul the Hermit, by Jusepe de Ribera, 1647.
Since the photo of LeBron is just chest up, I focused on the upper part of the painting, and then dropped it on a slightly extended background to enhance the darkness behind the figure of St Paul.
The background works perfectly, they have similar facial expressions, and there’s definitely a parallel with LeBron being the oldest player in the league. I’m happy how this one came out, especially because I was able to use some knowledge of art history to arrive at a successful pairing.