So, the blog has been in hiatus for a while, hopefully back now regularly, if slightly longer between posts. This post leads on from the last two sessions about still life, the practical and club member Simon Caplan’s excellent presentation.
Dorothea Lange made her camera “… A tool for learning to see without a camera”. It allows us to mine the extraordinary from the mundane, the exceptional from the ordinary. Looking and seeing are, very definitely, two different things. We often look but, frequently, we don’t see, or we see different things.
Photography, at least beyond the spray and pray, is about looking for the details that make a difference to how the viewer would otherwise perceive a scene and stop instead of passing the moment by. Moment, here, doesn’t just mean that Cartier Bresson split second where the true identity of something bursts through the cloak of mundanity, but also the weight of a thing, and its’ purpose, its’ importance in the re-telling of that fraction in time.
This process Ansell Adams called “Visualisation”. It is the interpretation of a story otherwise lost in the hubbub of our world. It is based within the practice of looking for the connections between the elements in the frame of our viewfinder. It is either something to be pondered or seized upon depending on the environment it exists in, but it is something tellingly special.
Control, then, is an issue and it would follow that the best we can ever do photographically is exhibit the maximum amount of control. If, however, that were universally true then there would only be one form of, one style of, photograph. It may be contextually true and it is certainly true of the still life, but it does not extend to all photography, because the purposes of making one photograph or another, even from the same subject, are different.
Discernment, the ability to judge, is far more important to photography, to art, than control. There are three elements to any picture. Light, subject and composition. Still life gives us maximum control of these three elements, but that control without the capacity to discern won’t give the basically inanimate objects that are the subject in any still life any meaning.
Meaning comes from the way we weave these three elements together.
So, in essence, still life is the art of arrangement. OK, it could be argued that all of photography is the art of arrangement to some greater or lesser degree, but still life is all about arrangment from conception to execution. There is no element of chance, all components are subject to total control.
There are other incarnations than the straightforward still life art shot. Product photography and sub-genres like food photography share the same DNA. Fashion, especially in the studio, ditto. Of course there are exceptions, such as the deliberate introduction of movement either by camera or subject, though the potential for control still remains (even if those examples aren’t very still!).
Simplicity is also a key feature. Too many items, more than one subject, weakens the overall image. The tools of composition still apply, indeed this is a great opportunity to learn about leading lines, the power of odd numbers, symmetry, texture, radial patterns, subject isolation, repetition, etc. etc. because we create them. Still life is a blank canvas.
Light is everything in photography. That does not mean that lighting setups for still life photography have to be complicated. The options are either daylight, the most natural, or artificial, the most flexible. Daylight will probably involve the use of reflectors and diffusers to direct and soften the light, but this doesn’t have to be expensive.
Artificial light, strobes, constant lights, etc will need the same care but we can also introduce the notion of multipoint lighting. The basic idea remains the same – control of light and shadow as a compositional tool. Learning to use hard light and soft light according to the look that we want is the place to start. What we are doing though is as much controlling the shadow as the light (and here).
Still life has a long history in art and photography, it is relatively easy to set up and cheap to do if we use what we have to hand. It is also subtle and quite absorbing, time can go very quickly when we really get into getting the best out of the arrangement of a few simple objects. It is also a good tutor and practice for using light in other situations and really one we can all improve our photography through.
Thanks to Simon Caplan again for an interesting and absorbing evening. I have replicated his list of still life photographers taken from the club’s members Facebook Page here:
Harold Ross – www.haroldrossfineart.com
Tineke Stoffels – www.tinekestoffels.eu
Diana Amelina – http://en.35photo.pro/eruven
Michael Lamotte –https://michael9dbc.myportfolio.com/from-the-source
Mandy Barker– http://mandy-barker.com
Also check out these:-
Kevin Best – http://bestshots.com.au
Barry Rosenthal – http://barryrosenthal.com
Joan Kocak – https://www.joankocakphotography.com/
Inna Karpova – http://innakarpova.com
Sergei Sogokon – https://sogokon.wordpress.com/gallery/
Bas Meeuws – www.basmeeuws.com