With some ingenuity and inspiration from the past, Norwegian photographer Stig Håvard Dirdal created a memorable Christmas greeting for local clients, Stavanger Foto. Dirdal had worked with the small camera shop, located on the west coast of Norway, in 2015 to create a clever holiday card that went viral, but this year he turned to a master of classical painting—Rembrandt—for inspiration.
Given complete freedom to plan and execute the image, Dirdal used the Dutch master’s 1632 painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp as a starting point. “Transforming an anatomy lesson into a Christmas present wrapping study just rang my bell,” Dirdal told My Modern Met. “And the fact that the Old Masters back in 1632 already knew what was coming—by the wrapping—rang them even more.” So what to do when you need to transform 10 adults into 17th-century Dutchmen? Go to IKEA, of course.
Proving that IKEA really does have everything, Dirdal first scoured the internet in search of costumes. Coming up empty-handed, he decided to put his newly purchased sewing machine to work and make them himself. “First I went to a fabric store—nothing of interest there….So I thought IKEA—they have ‘everything’—and it is good value for the money.” Dirdal went to the kitchen department for the collars, finding foam placemats that could be wrapped in tulle curtains for the proper effect. Grey blankets completed the look, as they could be cut apart and sewn into robes.
While Dirdal focused on the robes, he enlisted the help of his models for the collars, making things a team effort. “The night before the shoot I went straight from IKEA to my studio. The sewing machine and I became friends—busy friends,” Dirdal shares. “The day after, the employees came to my studio for a coffee and some instructions on how to act and what to expect. They put the robes on and they looked in the mirror—magic. I did not have time to make all the collars, so I prefabricated two prototypes, showed them how to make their own personal collar, and they did. Craftsmanship, helping each other out, and coffee. It was a really nice atmosphere.”
Dirdal then got to work with the 10 employees, placing them into position and setting up his lighting to match the carefully designed diagram he’d laid out. The final result is just what the photographer imagined—an image that conveys the holiday spirit without the overt look of a Christmas card.
The project also gave Dirdal a renewed respect for the work of the Old Masters, who spent months (or years) working on one painting. For Dirdal, the challenge was different given the new technology he has as a photographer. “Nowadays a camera can shoot 20 images a second—in RAW. The development of the idea is the biggest challenge, and also the most interesting factor for my work.”