Still-life photography at Collington

contributed by David Montgomery


Still life has been an accepted approach in painting for many years. Subtle variations within the approach included attempts at symbolism; e.g., “vanitas still life” painting took on a life of its own. (During the 16th and 17th centuries in Flanders and the Netherlands, skulls, watches, and musical instruments evoked thoughts of brevity and the ephemeral nature of life.)

Photographic still life is relatively uncommon, but a photography exhibit entitled “Calm Life” is now hanging in the library corridor, scheduled to remain through December. It presents still life for its own sake. It should be pleasing as a combination of form and color, and any symbolism is accidental.

Still life is an attractive approach within photography for some of the same reasons it is attractive in painting, in particular, the ability to control lighting and placement. Photography, however, adds degrees of freedom to the art form. For one, we can combine elements in the computer. This ability is critical for some depictions, e.g., the frog in one picture would not have cooperated in placing additional elements around it. Digital photography further allows manipulation of the image through artistic effects. Control of light extends beyond the initial position of lights; the degree of lightness and darkness can be varied after the fact. As you review the current show, note that much of the work includes an emphasis on background and the position of shadows can be critical.