Thursday, November 12, 2009


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Behind the Camera is the first book to explore the meticulously composed and richly detailed photographs that Norman Rockwell used to create his famous artworks. Working alongside skilled photographers, Rockwell acted as director, carefully orchestrating models, selecting props, and choosing locations for the photographs--works of art in their own right--that served as the basis of his iconic images. Readers will be surprised to find that many of his most memorable characters-the girl at the mirror, the young couple on prom night, the family on vacation-were friends and neighbors who served as his amateur models. In this groundbreaking book, author and historian Ron Schick delves into the archive of nearly 20,000 photographs housed at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Featuring reproductions of Rockwell's black-and-white photographs and related full-color artworks, along with an incisive narrative and quotes from Rockwell models and family members, this book will intrigue anyone interested in photography, art, and Americana.


What can be more American on Veteran's Day than a Norman Rockwell picture? OK, maybe a few things like the flag, but Rockwell was known for capturing what everyday America was really about. This lovely and fascinating compilation researched and presented by Ron Schick is gorgeous! To see a Rockwell illustration and imagine the story behind it has always been fascinating to me. One can guess at what inspired Rockwell to create it. Now we can see for sure what was behind the master's work. Rockwell WAS like a movie director as he used certain people, locations, and props to get just the right scene he wanted and Schick has the stories and evidence to prove it in this lovely book. Using the actual people to say what happened, how they helped; to see the base photos that were used to create his work is fascinating. A work of art in itself, this book give us a wonderful background piece to read and read again as we see before our eyes how an American treasure like Norman Rockwell created his masterpieces.


Ron Schick was born in Miami, Florida and grew up in Chicago. After studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, he became an editor specializing in photography and the visual arts. Ron worked in art publishing for three decades and has written about photography for national magazines. Today, he is a researcher, designer, independent curator, and museum consultant. With his wife and collaborator, Julia Van Haaften, he coauthored The View from Space: American Astronaut Photography, 1962-1972. He was the first independent researcher to examine every photograph taken on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions and to attribute them to the astronauts who took them. A Smithsonian Institution (SITES) traveling exhibition based on the book toured eighteen national venues. He lives with his family in New York City.

Article by Author Ron Schick

Norman Rockwell’s Photographs: Mirrors of His Masterworks

Growing up, my ambition was to become an illustrator, and I closely followed the work of artists from Norman Rockwell and Howard Pyle to Harold Foster and Walt Disney. My interests eventually gravitated to photography, first as a photographer, then as an editor and writer. Learning of Norman Rockwell’s photographs I was delighted to find that my adult vocation and childhood interests had crossed paths – Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera represents their intersection.

I first encountered Rockwell’s photographs in a PBS biography more than a decade ago. A few of his study photographs flashed by as the narrator explained that Rockwell photographed his models instead of posing them for hours or days as he painted. I was transfixed by how much the photos looked like his paintings come to life! These images had the unmistakable stamp of a Rockwell original but in a new and unexpected medium.

As a researcher I am excited by discoveries that enrich the art of photography and expand its boundaries. Though Rockwell’s photographs only filled the television screen for a moment it was clear to me there were treasures in his photo archive waiting to be found.

My schedule finally allowed me to take on this project in 2006. By happy coincidence, the Norman Rockwell Museum had just begun to scan Rockwell’s archive of more than 18,000 negatives in order to preserve this fragile resource and to make its imagery accessible. The Museum (who, with the Rockwell family and Little, Brown, were supportive from the first) generously allowed me to review scans as soon as they had been received and catalogued. I became the first independent researcher to review frame by frame their newly digitized archive.

As I began my research, within minutes I was discovering thrilling images that bore the hallmarks of Rockwell’s best art. I found gems that mirrored Rockwell’s well-known illustrations. His models’ familiar faces and their Rockwellian expressions radiated a startling presence thanks to the factuality of photography. But I quickly learned the images told a larger story.

It was no secret that Rockwell painted from photographs – he had even written about it. It was a surprise, though, to discover the extent to which he used them. Everything and everyone he painted from the mid-1930s on was staged for the camera. As my research progressed it became clear that photographs were fundamental building blocks of Norman Rockwell’s art.

While illustrators and artists had used photography since its invention, their studies were often elemental visual notes. By contrast, Rockwell’s photographs were meticulously composed and carefully orchestrated for the camera. He lavished his creative energy on them and, consequently, they are works of art in their own right. What’s more, his study photographs unlock the secrets of his process and allow us to analyze his creative choices. Norman Rockwell’s photography has opened a window on his working methods and it is a revelation.


Pesky Cat Designs said...

Thanks for sharing! I've always wondered how he captured all the details and poses so well. It did not occur to me that he worked from photos. I would love to peruse this book!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I was surprised too to find out how many of his scenes were from actual photographs!

bermudaonion said...

I love Norman Rockwell's work so I'm sure this book is just fascinating. Thanks for the review.

g.g. said...

I never knew Rockwell painted from photos. Too bad there isn't a giveaway on this book as it looks marvelous..thanks for the wonderful review.

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