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How Norman Rockwell used photography to create his iconic paintings

His paintings and illustrations are iconic representations of American life in the mid 20th century. But did you know that Norman Rockwell used photography as a tool to bring his ideas to life? 

Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, currently exhibiting at the Brooklyn Museum, places the study photographs and Rockwell's finished works side by side. Comparing the two is a fascinating process. Take a look at these examples:

Norman Rockwell / Collection of the Brooklyn Museum

The Dugout, 1948. Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, September 4, 1948

Gene Pelham / Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust

Photograph for The Dugout, 1948. Study for The Saturday Evening Post, September 4, 1948.

Norman Rockwell Museum Archival Collection

Going and Coming, 1947. Tear sheet, The Saturday Evening Post, August 30, 1947.

Gene Pelham / Norman Rockwell Museum Archival Collections

Photograph for Going and Coming, 1947. Study for The Saturday Evening Post, August 30, 1947.

A press release from the Norman Rockwell Museum explains:

A natural storyteller, Rockwell envisioned his narrative scenarios down to the smallest detail. Yet at the easel he was an absolute literalist, who rarely painted directly from his imagination. Adopting photography in the late 1930s, he began to call on friends and neighbors to model and bring new flesh-and-blood realism to his work. Their cooperative enthusiasm in front of the camera and unassuming tolerance for his demands enabled Rockwell to capture difficult poses and nuanced expressions more spontaneous than any professional model could deliver. Photography opened a door to the keenly observed authenticity that defines Norman Rockwell's art.

Louis Lamone / Norman Rockwell Museum Archival Collections

Photographer Bill Scovill (left) and Norman Rockwell, circa 1962.

Rockwell acted like a movie director, orchestrating each shot and even acting out some of the poses himself, but he relied upon a number of skilled professional photographers, including Gene Pelham, Bill Scovill, Louis J. Lamone, to take the pictures.

The exhibition runs at the Brooklyn Museum until April 10.

Part one of a 2007 Norman Rockwell Museum video detailing Norman Rockwell's life and work in Stockbridge, Mass. from 1953 to 1978.