Still Life

Weed, Ben Dolman 2012

I have just started my research into still life photography for a project I am undertaking and I noticed an exhibition listing on the Guardian Photography section  "Still life in the art of photography"   which reviews an exhibition on at Bradford’s National Media Museum. The exhibition is called the Art of Arrangement and is open from the 17th of November to the 10th of February 2013 and I shall visit the exhibition as it might prove useful in my understanding of the genre.

The reason why I am looking at still life photography is two fold. The first reason is purely technical in that I need a controlled environment to start using an ultra large format film camera I have designed and built and I will be using Ilford’s 20” x 24” black and white negative film for the photography. If you want to see the work undertaken so far with the ultra large format camera please take a look at the co-edited photography blog I run with Alan Duncan who is a colleague at Loughborough University where I work. I am also contributing to a joint research project with the School of the Arts and Chemistry at Loughborough University looking at new safe and sustainable approaches to alternative photographic processes and the first process we are looking at is Platinum and Palladium printing. Team members of the project are Professor Terence Kavanagh, Dr Paul Kelly, Alan Duncan and John Brewer who has been brought as a consultant and is one of the leading authorities on wet photography in the UK. The intention is to produce a set of prints at the end of the project and besides using the ULF camera I shall also be using digital and film cameras to create the digital negatives using a HP ZS3200 44” inkjet printer that has had profiles especially created for Platinum and Trichromatic printing that uses green ink to give consistent results to block ultra violet light when  the paper is exposed. Finally the English weather can be awful and sometimes location work cannot be undertaken so it is good to have a backup plan to work in doors and continue the experiments.

The second reason behind the project is creative, to take references from my location work be it Hinterland or the Fens and to look at certain things in greater depth in a controlled environment. I have not done much studio photography based work before in my creative practice preferring to work on location, capturing the moment and battling with the elements. I have no interest in portraits which seem to be the dominate studio subject so I have turned my attention to the still life as an alternative subject. The initial still life objects will be meat and weeds, meat a product of industrialised genetic farming methods and weeds representing nature pushed to the margins held back with the use of chemical pesticides. I am reasonably confident that weeds as a subject will yield some interesting results though meat might just turn out riddled with cliches, a poor man’s Damien Hurst.

My historical research into the genre started with a general overview of northern renaissance still life painting looking at Durer’s exquisite detailed studies of animals and forma, George Stubbs "The Anatomy of the Horse" whose studies were published in 1754, Goya's Three Salmon Steaks and A Butchers Counter and Juan Sanchez Cotan. I have also been looking at the work of modern painters such as  Chaim Soutine and Frances Bacon to contemporary artists Rob and Nick Carter who have remade the traditional still life painting as an animation using the latest GCI technologies. Two photographers I have been looking at recently who used meat as a subject meat are Irving Penn’s as seen in his photograph titled Rooster and Richard Avedon’s whose In the American West mainly consisted of portraits but there some images of butchered animals that offer some useful references how to tackle the subject.