History of Still Life Photography
Early still life photography heavily drew inspiration from traditional still life paintings, though later photographs approached the genre through the lens of various modern artistic movements. Photographers often turned to still lifes for practical reasons. They could have more control over the lighting and the placement of the subjects themselves. In still life photography, these included fruits, glassware, vases, and flowers. These still life photographs also served as archives, cataloguing one’s belongings as a kind of proof of ownership. During the 20th century, photographers began adding more artistic touches to their still life compositions, using soft focus lenses and playing with light and shadow to create images that approached the aesthetic of prints and drawings. Contemporary still life photographs similarly recall past styles, but with newer technologies, the range of potential subjects has expanded to include objects in motion.
Still Life Photography Techniques
Although the first artists to experiment with still life photography created black and white images, they focused on the interaction between the objects themselves to create more dynamic compositions. Photographers deliberately chose and arranged the objects they photographed, meaning they made decisions regarding any symmetry, diagonals, or contrast in textures. Some artists experimented with layering these items and taking aerial shots as opposed to photographing an arrangement on a table. Photographers also created interactions between these subjects and the surrounding environment, capturing window reflections and controlling the play of light and shadow to approach other artistic movements like Surrealism. Contemporary photographers utilize fast shutter speeds to take freeze frame photographs of objects in motion, producing still lifes of scenes that existed for only a split second.
Artists Known For Still Life Photography
Henry Fox Talbot published a book of his photographic experiments in “The Pencil of Nature” (1844). His still life “The Open Door” (1844) plays with light and shadow, while “Articles of China” (1844) demonstrates the genre’s role as a cataloguing device. Paul Outerbridge is famed for playing with dark shadows to create Surrealist still lifes like “Ide Collar” (1922). More contemporary examples of still life photographs include Bill Owens’ documentation of the homes of post-war working class Americans and Robert Mapplethorpe’s monochrome photographs of flowers. Photographer Ori Gersht is known for freezing flowers and photographing their explosions in works like “Blow Up: Untitled 15” (2007). Other masters of still life photography include Josef Sudek, Robert Fenton, Adolphe Braun, Edward Weston, Man Ray, Sharon Core, Jonathan Lovekin, and Wolfgang Tillmans.