Monday, August 12, 2013

Photographic Subject Matter - The Still Life

   One of the photographs that had a profound influence on me when I was studying photography was Edward Weston's famous image of a pepper.  It was a revelation to me that such a common, ordinary object could be the subject of a fine art photograph.  Weston's handling of the light was breath taking and when I think of  still life photography, this is the image that comes to mind for me.

   I haven't ever experimented with studio still life photographs.  I prefer to find my nature morte out in the landscape.  I jokingly told a friend that when I am too old to travel I'll start my studio still life series!  Since I work exclusively with natural light this will require me to learn lighting.  I'm not sure if Weston used artificial lighting on his pepper or not but my studio in Maine has a lot of natural light so perhaps I can dispense with the artificial light and rely on reflectors and slow shutter speeds.

   Weston was making a reference to the human body with his pepper photograph and I think, as a contemplative photographer, still life photography presents a kind of dilemma.  If we stage the photograph we must have a notion of what it is we are trying to communicate through the image before hand.  There is a bit of artificiality about it.  That's something each photographer must work out for themselves.

   This is still, after 8 years, one of my favorite still life images.  The Dresser, made on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.  It speaks so clearly to the culture of the island people and I've described it as an domestic altar to the sanctity of belonging.

A more recent still life study is this image of the drapery folds in my bedroom at the Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.  The extreme simplicity and lovely late afternoon light was quite wonderful. I know that when people think of "still life" they often think of the proverbial bowl of fruit but it can be so much more.

    Still life is a fascinating subject matter for the contemplative photographer no matter how you approach it whether through staged studio set ups or through objects you find along the way.  One of my favorite venues for still life is old grave can't get much more still than that!


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