In this assignment you’re going to work in response to a theme.
A theme is more nuanced and you can bring your own personal interpretation to it because you’ll have your own experiences, thoughts and feelings about it. Responding to a theme photographically will help you to elicit your own ideas and make them visual.
If you want to set yourself your own theme, that’s fine. Otherwise choose from this list:
• Power struggle
• The unbearable lightness of being.
For this assignment create a series of 3-5 still-life photographs based on a theme.
To accompany your photograph, write approximately one-page of text explaining:
• your theme
• your choice of background, objects and subjects
• the visual and conceptual reasons behind these choices
• your choice of light and/or time of day
• how you think the objects interact to give the viewer the impression you want them to
Send your final image(s) and your text to your tutor.
When I started thinking about how I was going to do this assignment I looked for some books and websites that would give me ideas. For me, still life is photographs or pictures of flowers, fruit and other arrangements of items. To do something like that I would need to gather a series of items together and arrange them. Those arrangements and the ensuing shots would have to be done outdoors rather than bringing the items back home and photographing them indoors.
Busselle (1998) was a useful book to find because it had a section on still life photography, and in particular a section on Found Still Lifes, which was what I was doing. In some ways the photographs could be taken as advertising shots, not very flattering ones admittedly, but Busselle’s book gave me the confidence to continue down the route I’d decided upon.
My choice of theme was man’s impact on the environment, particularly around beaches and the sea shore. When I was in Cyprus in March 2018, one of the things I noticed was the amount of cans and plastic bottles that had either been discarded by people or washed up by the sea.
With that in mind I decided that I would do a series of still life images based around items that I found on the sea shore. This ended up being mostly cans, bottles but also a few other items that I wouldn’t normally expect to find lying around on the sea shore.
The reason I chose the items I did was firstly because they stood out when I was looking for things to photograph. The second reason was that each of the items highlights how casually people discarded things they’ve finished using. None of these items are going to break down very quickly. Glass may be smashed into smaller and smaller pieces by the sea but if washed up on the beach could end up causing injury to people or animals. Plastics as we are all becoming more aware gets broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, ending up being eaten by marine life, and in so many cases killing them or even ending up in the food chain, where eventually humans consume it.
The initial problem was how to remove the item from it’s background so that the focus was more on it than the background. The first idea was t use a sheet of card, positioned behind the object. In the end I decided that I’d take close up shots of the items or ensure that the background was as featureless as possible.
For the majority of the images I decided that I wanted to include just the minimum I could but in the case of the selected images I decided that I’d allow nature to have a bit of interaction with the Man’s discarded trash.
In the case of the aerosols I decided that I wanted to include more of what I could see. Just after I took the shot I’ve used a wave came in and moved it closer to the others. It was almost as if the sea was saying “Nope, I don’t want that. Take it back.”
Time of day was based on when I was able to go out to find items and was mid morning. This made some of the shots a bit more difficult because of the bright outdoor light.
Each of the objects stands alone. The toothbrush I hope will make the viewer wonder how and why such an object was abandoned where it was.
I’ve combined each of the individual images into a single image, which I hope will give the impression of the aftermath of someone enjoying themselves.
- Busselle, M (1999). Better Picture Guide To Still Life & Close-up Photography. Switzerland: Rotovision
- Perweiler, G (1984) Secrets of Studio Still Life Photography. 1st edn. New York: Amphoto.
In addition to the images captured in Cyprus there were several that were taken in the UK, in Norfolk, which just goes to show that it doesn’t matter where you go, people will carelessly throw things away. Although there were a distinct lack of crisp packets and chocolate wrappers in Cyprus compared to Norfolk.
When it comes to humans it’s a bit like my father used to say “We have to go everywhere twice, the second time to apologise for the first.” Except there isn’t going to be a second time for us to come to Earth in order to apologise for the mess we’ve made of it this time.