For an adventurous take on the still life photography genre, take a look at the work of Gina Soden. Soden is a British photographer who travels across Europe in order to capture images of abandoned buildings before we lose them to demolition or reconstruction. Since Soden is rarely given permission to shoot in these locations, each image captures the artist’s tenacity to create art while also allowing the viewer a unique insight into places we would not normally see. Her painterly pieces encapsulate the passing of time and the beauty that can be found in decay.
For a unique approach to the genre, check out the work of Riccardo Cavallari. This photographer suffers a vision disorder known as diplopia which means the vision of each eye does not converge into one single image, effectively he sees everything doubled, thus his only ‘normal’ vision of the world is through the lens of a camera. His still life images are meticulously constructed and his use of black and white combined with traditional subject matters such as glass bottles leads to a traditional take on the movement which benefits from the advancements in post-production technologies.
At its conception the still life photography movement was heavily influenced by traditional still life paintings, but later photographs began to approach the genre through the lens of various modern art movements. The still life genre was often employed in photography to serve practical purposes – for instance, serving as archives which catalogued a person’s belongings as a form of proof of ownership. Photographers were afforded greater control over the lighting and placement of the subjects themselves which often included fruit, glassware, vases and flowers.
Across the 20th century, photographers began to experiment by adding more artistic touches to their still life photographs such as the use of soft-focus lenses and experimentation with light and shadow to create images which approached the aesthetics of prints and drawings. Nowadays, still life photographs tend to recall past styles but advancements in technology mean that their subject matter can also include objects in motion.
The first artists to work in the still life photography genre created black and white images which focused upon the interactions between the objects depicted in order to create more dynamic compositions. Photographers deliberately choose and arrange the objects they photograph, making decisions with regards to the symmetry, diagonals and contrasting textures within their images. One technique which photographers experimented with was the layering of items which would then be photographed aerially, rather than the traditional approach of photographing an arrangement on a table. Photographers also captured the interaction between subjects and their surrounding environments through techniques such as capturing window reflections and manipulating the light and shadow in an image in a nod towards other artistic movements such as Surrealism. Contemporary photographers are able to utilize fast shutter speeds in order to capture snapshots of moving objects, allowing them to create still life representations of fleeting.
Famous artists to work in the genre include Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot published a book of photographic experiments with images such as ‘The Open Door’ and ‘Articles of China’ serving to demonstrate the various artistic and practical functions of the still life photography genre. Contemporary examples of still life photography include Ori Gersht’s famous photographs of exploding frozen flowers and Bill Owens’ documentation of post-war working-class American households.