Paintings are often seen as never-changing pieces of art, but one URI art student is trying to challenge this. By taking photographs of famously painted pictures, the old scenes are given new life.

Rhonda Laporte, a senior Fine Arts major at the University of Rhode Island, has always had a love for nature and a flair for dramatic photography. Now, with inspiration pulled from the artists of the Romantic Era, she is combining these two loves for her senior project.

“I’m attempting to go to the locations where [Romantic Era artists] painted,” explained Laporte. “I am photographing the same places, and then through digital manipulation, because I do all digital work, I’m going to give them the feeling of a painting. Only they are actually photographs.”

Her fascination with the dramatic is used as a tool in her artwork, as she chooses to heighten or emphasize certain parts of her pictures.

“For example, I highly defined the clouds,” said Laporte. “Because I wanted the clouds to really give that emotional [effect], like there’s a storm coming”

She is also able to change her color-filled photographs into black and white images, and then paint color back into the same pictures. She may use this skill for her senior project as well.

“Because it gives that real painted feel to a photograph,” said Laporte,  “and that’s what I’m trying to go for. The subject matter that I usually pick is something with a lot of high intensity, a lot of drama.”

At first, Laporte was unaware that her work was connected to the pieces made during the Romantic Era, or even what this meant. Her professors here at URI pointed out that she had a style reminiscent of the romantic painters, so she decided to do some research to see for herself.

One of Laporte's pieces. - Courtesy: Rhonda Laporte
One of Laporte’s pieces. – Courtesy: Rhonda Laporte

“The way they thought and the work that they did was very similar to my thought process and my work,” explained Laporte. “They were in an era where industrialization was just coming about, and they were very concerned about the wilderness disappearing… We didn’t heed their warnings. But we are fortunate that through their work they inspired people to conserve areas of land. And I really feel that without them and their works that we may not have even the few very beautiful places that we can still go to, like Yellowstone [National Park] and the Catskill Mountains [in New York].”

Laporte’s idea for her senior project was sparked during her travels this summer. She was only visiting different states, including Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina and Georgia, to find scenes that were inspiring to her. Then, while in Virginia, she visited a spot known as “Natural Bridge,” and realized through later research that Frederic Edwin Church had created a painting from that exact location.

“The way his painting is composed, he must have been standing in the exact spot that I was standing when I took [that] picture, and it was totally mind blowing,” said Laporte. “[It] was the catalyst to say maybe I should be going to the exact locations, and trying to replicate in a modern way something that they did in a very traditional way. So it’s kind of my modern take on their traditional methods”

Though Laporte is a senior art student, she admitted that is not her first time graduating from URI. She also graduated from URI in 1999, with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication. She worked for public television and various other non-profit organizations, and was the membership director for PBS where she produced pledge shows. Laporte worked in this field from 1999 until 2011, when her husband, a retired Marine, decided to transfer his GI Bill to her so that she could return to school for her true passion: art.

“We had the GI Bill, and I had the opportunity to use it, so I decided to come back to school and do something that I always wanted to do, but never did…Because when I originally went to school my dream was to do something like this, but as a young person you’re like ‘I need to get a job.’ So now this is my chance to do something that I’m really passionate about, and it’s been the best decision I ever made.”

After graduation, Laporte will continue her passion for art, as she has already been in several shows and sold some of her own art work.

“I think I would be a benefit, because of my non-profit skills, to working in a gallery or a museum. And now that I have the fine arts behind me, that would be ideally what I would want to do. Because I would love to be surrounded by other people’s art all day, because it’s such an inspiration to me and it fuels my artistic expression.”