Glorious still life props: review on Still Life Photography
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"From today painting is dead" French painter Paul Delaroche would have said when he saw the first daguerreotype. Well, he was too pessimistic. Painters never ceased to paint, but changed their style, acquired another way of seeing the world around them.
They turned away from that old tradition of representing the visible world so true to nature that you that you would like to pick a peach painted on the canvas to eat it. That fidelity is now left to the photographers who do it with gusto, whether it be portraits, landscapes or - and that's what counts in this review - still lifes
In French they call still lifes "nature morte", in Spanish "naturaleza muerta", in Italian it is "natura morta" - dead nature. The German equivalent is almost the same as the English: "Stillleben" - the Scandinavians use "stilleben" - and the Dutch first used the word "stilstaand leven" (stagnant life), but later on they switched to "stilleven". Anyway, whether you use the Roman variants of still life or the Germanic, everyone knows what you're talking.
This definition excludes all still lifes that were made since halfway the 19th century - think of painters like Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh and Giorgio Morandi or photographers like Rinko Kawanchi , Ori Gersht and Laura Letinsky .
I feel much more at home with the definition in Yvette Depaepe's compilation of the wonderful work of 1X still life photographers. I also very much like Francis Woodly's two definitions.
But you can expand the idea even further. Jackie Higgins does so in her book "Why it does not have to be in focus". In addition to traditional subjects such as flowers, food and nature morte, she also sees nudes and empty interiors as parts of the still life genre. I think even street still lifes may be counted in!
1. The classical approach
1. The classical approach
While Juan Luis Saco's photograph - Girasoles en la cocina / Sunflowers in the kitchen - is subdued and quiet, it is one and all baroque bustle on "Love Caravaggio" by Mystic Light.
The kitchen seems to be in deep sleep. Together with the knife the ingredients for the next meal are peacefully waiting on the arrival of the cook. For a moment they are at centre of the stage - something which is characteristic for a still life, giving attention to everyday things like a beef tomato, a knife, a bowl with potatoes and onions, a flask of olive oil and flowers in a vase.
The light caresses the attributes on the table, which makes them so real and touchable, that I would like to grab that tomato and keep my hands. It reminds me of atmosphere of "Basket of Fruit" , an early work of the Italian painter Caravaggio, which is just like the photo of Juan characterized by modesty and restrained use of colour. There is yet none of the pronounced use of light and dark - the chiaroscuro, which was to become typical of Caravaggio's work and had the major impact on among others the Dutch painters from the time of Rembrandt. And it certainly inspired Mystic Light for his still life "Love Caravaggio".
Like many Dutch masters Mystic Light shows a table overflowed with fruit, vegetables, mushrooms and nuts. It could be he got his inspiration from a still life by Jan Davidszoon de Heem, who worked mostly in Antwerp (Belgium). In several ways Mystic Light's photograph resembles the painting.
Between brackets, there is nothing wrong with that. The American photographer Sharon Core for example meticulously restaged still lifes on canvas in her studio and photographs it. The result is so lifelike that you can hardly see the difference between photo and painting.
Back to Mystic Lights photograph and De Heems painting. Both have a dark background and the spotlight is on the fruits and the other food in all its lustre. Also the composition is quite similar. It is as if there is an imaginary line is drawn from the lower left corner to the upper right corner, and along which all the vegetables and fruit have been piled up. It gives the image a baroque liveliness which is also the characteristic of many flower still lifes by Flemish, French and Dutch masters from the 17th and 18th century.
What struck me, however, was that only a few images made me smile. They are all so serious! Happily I could find some humorous still lifes. "Simply ... Spring" is an example, just as "Fish and violin" and "Misery".
4. Food and drink
Geometry is the key of Morandi's work and Christophe's. They are moreover characterized by their deceptive simplicity, stillness and contemplative atmosphere. Christophe's image has however an austerity that is lacking in Morandi's still lifes.
5. Black and white
6. The contemporary still life
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