This month is a stretch for me because I don't consider still life one of my specialties (although I have always found the French "nature morte"—literally, "dead nature"—morbidly amusing). But lack of expertise notwithstanding, I thought that with Thanksgiving coming up, "a few of my favorite things" might be an appropriate theme for exploring a time-honored tradition.
A cursory search of "still life" in an art index brought up results like:
- apples in a dish
- apples and grapes in a basket
- breakfast still life with glass and metalwork
- cabin door still life
- still life with dead hare
- still life with pheasants and plovers
In photography, we may be more accustomed to seeing products and food (rarely a dead hare) in magazines and catalogs. And although I admire those beautiful images of food and inanimate objects, I would like to challenge you to create a personalized composition.
A still life, by definition, should be a representation of inanimate objects. That means no people (however boring) or pets (unless you happen to own a pet dead hare). I would like to push things beyond apples and flowers and encourage you to photograph an arrangement of some of your favorite things.
Here is my annotated attempt (you can click to enlarge):
I arranged a selection of my favorite things on an old suitcase (representing travel—very high on the list). The objects include (beginning at left—I won't be offended if you skip this part):
- my ipod touch (it's always with me)
- some robotic bugs from the Printemps Design store in the Pompidou Centre which I like because 1. I like bugs and technology, and 2. I used them in my "Nostalgia and Technology" exhibit.
- a little framed picture of a bug, because I have spent way too much time studying eighteenth-century entomology
- Some eighteenth-century books by Voltaire (I have also written a lot about 18th-century French literature)
- Insect Poetics, because my chapter in that book combines my interest in microscopes and insects
- The Creative Mind—a French philosophy book that Michelle altered to contain a year's worth of dates.
- A Panasonic panapet radio like the one my sister used to have in the 70s. I had it and many other spherical electronic objects suspended from the ceiling like orbiting planets in the space age room of my exhibit.
- The catalog from last year's Sundance Film Festival. I saw 33 movies in one week—sick, I know, but just my kind of thing. (In my defense, I do teach a European cinema course, so it's "research.")
- The catalog to my Nostalgia & Technology exhibition
- My favorite Criterion boxed DVD set (I'm a sucker for boxed sets): The Adventures of Antoine Doinel (It's a suitcase, and each dvd is an article of clothing).
- Some Brownie cameras, not only because I love photography, but because I spent untold hours pouring through the archives of the George Eastman House for an article on the Brownie camera.
- My pass to last year's Sundance Film Festival (I already have my pass for this year).
- Finally, a clock (I just like clocks, no reason in particular) and an Eiffel Tower (Paris is my favorite city) sit on an old Rousseau book.
A few technical tips:
- Try using natural light. Arrange your objects on something near a window for good side lighting, and then use something reflective (like a white piece of foamcore) to bounce light back as "fill" for the dark areas.
- Whatever you do, don't mix light sources (tungsten+flash+daylight+fluourescent=ugly).
- Use a plain backdrop such as fabric or a wall to avoid distracting backgrounds.
- Get creative with the base on which you arrange objects. Cutting boards, fabric, anything with texture or character could add interest.