Bruce DeBoer Channels Rembrandt in New Series Ruffs + Collars

January 2, 2013

By Jacqui Palumbo

© Bruce DeBoer

North Carolina principal ballet dancer Lara O'Brien in <em>Ruffs + Collars.</em>

This past January, lifestyle and portrait photographer Bruce DeBoer visited a touring Rembrandt exhibit, and the art of the 17th century Dutch painter began to stir the beginnings of a new project titled Ruffs + Collars. The portrait series is rich in tone and texture, modernizing the era while paying tribute to the Northern Baroque style with a neutral palette and dramatic lighting.

DeBoer was similarly influenced almost two decades ago when a book on 17th century Dutch still life painters was the catalyst for a large format series of photographs in a similar vein. After a year of focusing on video, he wanted to return to his roots. “I had been feeling a need to reconnect with some earlier influences,” he explains. He contacted stylist Emma Carter and began discussing neck ruffs and collars in fashion photography. “[We didn’t want] a theatrical copy of the Baroque style, but rather a bridge to that period,” he says. DeBoer and Carter created a style board consisting of current hair and makeup styles, 1960s Irving Penn fashion covers and “classically simple” Patrick Demarchelier beauty.

&copy; Bruce DeBoer

DeBoer and Carter have partnered for years on various projects in his portfolio. “[Her] styling collaboration is vital,” he says. “She and I have worked together for more than a decade in a nearly seamless way.” Also on the project was Bryan Hoffman, acting as producer, grip, lighting consultant, location manager and DeBoer notes, “a keen extra set of eyes on set.” 

The neck ruffs, seven in total, were sourced from Etsy, a vendor in the United Kingdom and a custom made ruff based on a museum photograph. For talent, DeBoer and Carter both wanted to photograph Lara O’Brien, principal ballerina with the North Carolina Company. They found the other talent through their personal network of connections.

&copy; Bruce DeBoer

DeBoer set up low power Speedotron studio strobes and a 7-foot umbrella as the main light. He played around with natural light in the studio as well, making adjustments to fit the mood. “I recall a lecture I attended while I was a student at RIT in the mid 70’s,” he says. “The visiting photographer said ‘I try to light my sets so they don’t look lit.’ That has rattled around in my head for decades and I try to stay as close to that philosophy as possible.” 

The final set of images vary between the amount of classic versus contemporary feel, playing upon the tension of the regal and the modern. There’s a subtle drama to each portrait, and he plays nuance well. “I’ve always felt that the most important ingredient [of photography] is emotion, but not the emotion I inject into the photo, rather that which is elicited from the viewer,” DeBoer says. “A viewer’s relationship with art is personal.”

For more of Bruce DeBoer’s work, visit his Web site.