On a hot summer’s night in 1889 a man who had recently lost an ear looked out through his barred windows and saw a landscape that inspired one of the most famous paintings in history. That disfigured, imprisoned man was Vincent Van Gogh and the painting is titled, “The Starry Night.” This past summer I travelled to France to connect with my family, which I, not unlike Van Gogh had been away from for a very long time. I wanted to learn who I was, staying in the French town of St. Rémy de Provence helped guide me to the answer. Walking down the cobblestone streets I felt closer to home in this foreign country than I have ever experienced in my living room.
My second day in St. Rémy I visited the sanitarium where Van Gogh committed himself after he had one of his violent episodes. When I stepped into what was at one time his bedroom I felt a tingling sensation down my back, I imagined how much pain and heartache these walls have witnessed, how these floors have at times been the only ground under the feet of so many lost souls. I glanced out to window hoping to spot a Cyprus tree and sure enough there it was, and a giant field of lavender and sunflowers as well. I could not leave this bedroom until I had created something that had meaning. I knelt on the floor and captured as many images as I could with as many angles and exposures as I could achieve so I could have images to choose from later rather than be trampled in a tourist attraction. Unable to really see how my pictures came out until returning to United States I spent many train rides shutting my eyes and imagining what I hope to create. I decided to set up a story with, “The Starry Night” glowing out through the barred window and a paint brush or some oil paint dropped on the floor as if to say he ran outside to paint it.
Van Gogh once said, “I dream of painting and then I paint my dream,” which is an idea which speaks to me deeply, but while bringing dreams to life is a beautiful idea, it is also nearly impossible. After countless drafts, punching pillows out of frustration, and “giving up” more times than my self-esteem would have liked, the final image took about 8 weeks from beginning the photo’s editing to completion. That amount of time for completing a piece might sound strange to other photographers but I could not stop manipulating and drawing my dream until it was as I had seen it in my head in Provence.
In my image of “The Starry Night” bedroom I have placed the original oil painting behind the bars of the window as if to show what the outside world looked like through Van Gogh’s eyes. I made sure to take the technique and look of his oil paintings and bring them into the image to blend his fantasy of that night and transition it back to the universe from where his vision originated. I feel as if this piece was first imagined back in that summer’s night in 1889. I learned through this piece to not always take pictures that embody how I see the world, but rather ones that embody how I imagine the world, because although I cannot reach my destination without using my eyes to guide me, it’s the path I create in my imagination that truly decides how I will get there.