This series is inspired by Dutch Golden Age still life paintings of the 17th century.
This is a period, which is included in European Baroque art, but without the idealism of the rest of European art and with more detailed realism and lighting. In the paintings that inspire this photographic series there is an emphasis on texture, surface detail, shape and almost photorealistic lighting effects. The colours are often muted with browns dominating, sometimes even a monochromatic colour palette. In the “hierarchy of genres” still life is relegated to the bottom, probably because it has no narrative or deeper meaning. And it was not a subject that interested me when I began my photographic journey.
The development of this series is a direct result of the adversity of COVID-19, lockdown and having an excess of free time on my hands. Despite the insulating effects of COVID, my desire to remain creative led me to explore a genre I also relegated to the bottom of the hierarchy: small-scale tabletop photography. In creating these shots the easiest part for me is the lighting: one strong directional continuous tungsten light source coming from the left – always from the left, don’t ask me why, maybe it’s just tradition. This creates dramatic three-dimensional modelling and chiaroscuro light and shade, emphasising the subject’s texture. The subject is still, so shutter speed is not an issue. Having a background in advertising I rebel against the bland, soft, flat, generic lighting commonly used in product photography. I have a collection of replica fruit and various other objects to work with and like the irony this creates. It’s the illusion that interests me. The most difficult and taxing part for me in creating these shots is arranging the elements and working with a more muted colour palette that goes against my natural inclination. Often I need to take multiple shots, making slight adjustments, adding more layers as I edit and keeping the setup and lighting in place until I am finally done editing.
Despite appearing to only be about surface detail and lacking any narrative or context there is deeper symbolic meaning to these subjects, at least in the original paintings I based this photographic series on. They are about an awareness of mortality and the inevitability of death. The fruit is usually in a state of decay, attracting insects, suggesting the brevity of life. Objects such as hourglasses also suggest the passing of time and skulls are an obvious representation of death. On top of this I have added my own layer of humour and irony. I was never interested in photographing real fruit or skulls. I prefer the illusion, one thing masquerading as another. They are inanimate ‘actors’ playing roles. This is what interests me. Nothing is ever what it seems; the fruit is fake, the hourglass is an egg-timer, the skull is plastic (I only have the one), the insects are plastic, the vine leaves are silk and the marble ledge is the lid of a cardboard box. These are carefully staged photographs of objects masquerading as other objects. They are 21st century digital photographs masquerading as Baroque paintings.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, after graduating from school in Germany, I studied Graphic Design at Maidstone College of Art in the UK, where I first began taking photographs seriously, and then at the Royal College of Art in London. Returning to Australia, after spending most of the 1980s working as art director in advertising, then drifting off to pursue various other creative endeavours, I decided the spontaneity of photography and designing within the context of a photographic frame more suited to my temperament. Studying Graphic Design at Art College taught me lateral and conceptual thinking, a Diploma of Photography from Sydney TAFE Ultimo taught me the photographic technique I needed to successfully execute my concepts.
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