Picture Analysis – Laura Letinsky

Have a close analytical look at the photograph above by Canadian
photographer Laura Letinsky. You can see a larger version at
http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/ill-form-and-void-full (note: image is no longer available at this location).
There is something immediately uncanny in this photograph and in
much of Letinsky’s work. Firstly, notice the planes that make up the
background and the area on the lower left of the picture. These ‘surfaces’,
on which there are objects, shadows and cut-out pictures of objects, create an odd sense of space which you can only partly identify as a table
scene, a meal. There appears to be a slanted table top seen from the
side in the middle of the area on the left, but this surface is uncertain,
reflecting some of the objects and not others.
The objects themselves are simple, everyday items: two spoons, some
fruit and cherry pips. But the shadows and perspective of these objects
is inconsistent. This plays with our sense of dimensionality, the way we as
viewers orient our viewpoint on the scene depicted.
Some of these objects appear to be ‘real’ in the sense that Letinsky has placed and photographed them herself, whereas others have
been cut out of magazines. Notice that these cut-out objects had been
photographed from different viewpoints (and in a different time and
space), which Letinsky has tried to incorporate into the perspective of
her own ‘still life’ scene. The spoon on the far left appears to rest on the
surface and take part in the scene and the other spoon appears to hover
above the surface and has no shadow.
How many things in your own life are real in the sense that they are in
front of you physically? And how much of what you experience and
know comes through representations? Do you play sport, spectate or
watch it on television?
In her previous work, Letinsky used left-over meals, plates and cutlery
to indicate a scene, event or relationship going on beyond the view of
the photograph, turning viewers into detectives looking for clues and
connotations. Meticulously placed dishes express the thoughts and
emotions of the ‘character’ who placed them. In this work, she extends
this by looking at the ways people incorporate representations and
collective fantasies into their ‘reality’.
Have a look at Laura Letinsky’s website lauraletinsky.com. Also look at the
still life work Bungled Memories by David Bate at www.davidbate.net. For
a seventeenth-century comparison with Letinsky’s work, you can look at
the paintings of Pieter Claesz here: www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/SK-A-4646/still-life

Write about the following issues in response to Letinsky’s photograph.
1. Visual description (objects & background/space)

Laura Letinsky → ILL FORM AND VOID FULL (2010) is an image of a white space containing a table covered with a white cloth that hides the legs. On top of the table is a white glass sheet, on which have been placed a number of objects. These include two pieces of orange fruit, some cherry pits, two spoons, one silver, the other slightly darker looking,  containing some sort of red objects, at the back of the table something that could be a small, white plate with more cherry pits resting on it and a curved object near to the two pieces of orange fruit.

2. Composition/design/arrangement

The image has been composed in such a way that it represents part of a meal or snack. The focus is on the bottom and middle left of the image but primarily the middle left.

The space being predominantly white, attention is drawn to the objects on the table and away from the majority of the space.

The table appears to be in the corner of a room as the light on the right hand side of the image gives the impression that there is a wall at an angle from the wall behind the table. However, close examination of the image doesn’t show any obvious line that would mark a corner.

The top of the table is sloped at a downward angle.

A reflection of the orange fruit can be seen in the table top and shadows of it are cast on the wall behind it.

A shadow from the curved object also appears on the wall. The spoons and small plate, however, have no reflections, or in the case of the spoon on the right and the plate, shadows. There is a very faint shadow of the handle of the spoon on the left on the wall behind.

3. Sense of space or ‘dimensionality’

The majority of things in the picture being white gives a sense of openess and space. The coloured items being so small this sense is added to. However, it is not possible to be sure whether this is a normal size room or a model of one.

4. Connotations

The images leads one to thinking about food and meals. The plate and spoons suggest that a meal may have been, or is in progress. The spoons hanging in the air and the cherry pips falling off the table suggest sudden absence, as if someone has rushed away from the table.

The cleanliness, as symbolised by the whiteness of everything, and the lack of clutter or mess, suggest an environment other than a domestic one, perhaps a high class restaurant.

Research

David Bate | BUNGLED MEMORIES (2009) has produced a series of images of household objects which have been broken and then photographed in colour on his kitchen table. These images are similar to Letinsky’s work in the simplicity of the arrangement and items being photographed. Although there is a sense of space in common with Letinsky’s work there is not sense that the images have been adjusted using photos of other objects.

Claesz’ paintings Still Life with a Fish, Pieter Claesz., 1647 (s.d.) and Still Life with a Turkey Pie, Pieter Claesz., 1627 (s.d.) are similar to Letinsky’s work. Although in both these examples there is no sense of space, the paintings are filled with objects, there is still a sense that something isn’t quite right when you look at them in detail. Shadows don’t always go in the directions that you would expect, if an object actually has a shadow. Claesz I feel had an easier time with achieving the effect that Letinsky has because he would have been able to put shadows wherever he wanted, if indeed he added them to an object at all.

References

  1. David Bate | BUNGLED MEMORIES (2009) At: http://www.davidbate.net/ARTWORKS/BUNGLED-MEMORIES.html (Accessed on 2 August 2018)
  2. Laura Letinsky → ILL FORM AND VOID FULL (2010) At: http://lauraletinsky.com/photographs/ill-form-and-void/ (Accessed on 2 August 2018)
  3. Still Life with a Fish, Pieter Claesz., 1647 (s.d.) At: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/SK-A-1857 (Accessed on 2 August 2018)
  4. Still Life with a Turkey Pie, Pieter Claesz., 1627 (s.d.) At: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/SK-A-4646 (Accessed on 2 August 2018)

Patchwork

Brief

Make a series of photographs of textures and colours, objects and forms. These can be
close or wide shots of essential things like clothes, bricks, bark, grass, sky, etc. Try to
render everything ‘abstract’ or not entirely recognisable by altering your viewpoint.
Reduce the file size of the images.
• Save As…JPEG
• Image Size > 1500 pixels
Place the photographs together in a grid. Aim to make a composition of at least nine
rectangle or square images.
Consider how the colours and textures, objects and forms work together and as a whole.
• Which pictures seem closer and which appear further away?
• Which colours stand out and which colours (or tones) recede?
Save the arrangement with a different file name; call it Patchwork_1.

Reflection

I decided to make a series of images based around water but which also included something square or rectangular.

I think the cream and browns work well together. The green in the top left image stood out a bit too much for me at first but I then noticed the green on the steps in the bottom right image and I felt a lot happier.

I think each image has a colour that stands out more than the rest. Top left image has the green of the statue but I think the pigeon actually leaps out more. The middle top image, the water stands out but I keep being drawn to the yellow bits. Top right image, the ivory  in the middle stands out from the creamy colour around it. Bottom middle, the pale cement stands out from the grey slabs that fill the image.

Final Images

Patchwork - Water Features
Patchwork

Other Images

The two sets of images below don’t fit the brief for this exercise but were something that I tried out while working out how to put images together in a grid in Photoshop. Something that turned out to be very simple in the end.

I found the duck lying on the waterside when we were in Norfolk. While taking some photos to see if my ideas for assignment 4 were workable and what I would have to do in order for them to become workable I found this poor creature. It can’t have been dead for too long as the carcus has not started to decompose and it had not been bothered by dogs or any other animals, ants were in the process of exploring the corpse.

When I put the individual images together, there are four images making up the grid and not just a repetition of two, which it might appear at first glance I put the close up of the duck top right and bottom left but after looking at it wasn’t sure whether that was best so created the second set of images with the close up top left and bottom right.

Like a lot of the work that I’ve produced as during the exercises and assignments for the course I can see that there is potential to take it further and explore death and decomposition whether limited to birds or the wider animal kingdom.

Dead Duck
Still Life – Dead Duck #1
Dead Duck 2
Still Life – Dead Duck #2

The image below I produced after taking my first set of images for this exercise. Again this doesn’t fit the brief because it is the same object that is being photographed, just from different positions.

Patchwork - Water Feature
Still Life – Patchwork #1

 

Contact Sheets

Patchwork Contact Sheet #1Patchwork Contact Sheet #6Patchwork Contact Sheet #5Patchwork Contact Sheet #4Patchwork Contact Sheet #3Patchwork Contact Sheet #2

Constructed imagery

Brief

Traditional still life presents a small-scale space to explore the composition and meaning
of objects. But still life doesn’t have to be bowls of fruit and vases of flowers. You can
place any object or combination of objects in any setting. And both can be constructed. It
may be useful to think of still life as having two key elements – object(s) and setting – and
go wherever your imagination takes you with them

Setting/background

Choose a space that you can work with over time. You don’t need the traditional wall and
table yet, just a cleared space.
What does your space present you with? A wall? A floor? A corner? Put your camera on
a tripod and aim it at this empty space. Now add to this space one large flat object. It
could be a sheet, a painting turned back to front, an up-turned table or a large piece of
paper stuck to the wall. Don’t place anything in the middle of space to act as an ‘object’ but rather compose your setting with surfaces, colours and textures. Have a look in the
viewfinder. Note every element in the frame:
• the way surfaces create angles, lines, shapes and planes
• the way planes create a dimensional ‘space’
• the effect of different lighting on this setting.
Take a photo. This should be an entirely artificial, constructed image even with no proper sense of gravity.

Objects

• Now choose a simple object and carefully place it into this composition. Avoid
clichéd objects. Take a photo, then remove the object.
• Replace it with another object, something very different. Place this object in such
a way that it’s not emphasised. (Did your first photo emphasise the object?) Take a
photo.
• Now fill the space with a lot of different things (mattresses, furniture, crockery, books,
plants, anything handy) and try to create an entirely constructed ‘environment’. Think
about how objects coincide as planes, lines and points in your frame. It may be very
messy, but it should depict a ‘place’ with an identity that only exists inside the frame
of your camera.
• Look at these pictures and you will see that gradually you have removed any trace of
the original space. It could be anywhere. Just like a painter, you have taken control
over every part of the picture.

Clear the setting. Keep the space free for your use as a ‘studio’ for a few days and
experiment with different backgrounds, objects and lighting. Try to create different self-
contained, unique environments. Experiment with creating a new sense of space.

Final images

The space I used for this was the top of a chest of drawers that is next to a wardrobe in one of the bedrooms at home. It’s at the opposite side of the room to the window so light from the window is blocked in part by the wardrobe, as can be seen from the shadow in the first few images.

That provided the opportunity to look at the effect of light on a couple of objects, just by moving them around.

The photos of the juggling equipment allowed me to fill the space so that it went from bare white area to something full of colour and shape.

With the photos of the ships I wanted to contruct something different. I’m not totally happy with it. I think it changes the area but it would be better if the background to the area was also changed so it’s not so noticeable.

Contact Sheets

Final Selection-1Final Selection-2

 

Fragments

Brief

In this first exercise, you’ll use fragments of still life images to create a combined design.
• Arrange a still life set-up that includes a background (preferably an ironed white or
black sheet) and three distinct objects. It would be helpful if at least one object was
sized at least 0.5m or you’ll be photographing everything in macro.
• Use either sunlight from a window or one single source of electric light to cast
shadows and bring out the 3D form of the objects.
• Photograph around the objects, both close and wide shots, not all from the front.
• Capture the edges and the lines of the objects as well as defined shapes within them
– for example the sound holes of a violin.
• Capture edges where light and shadow create a sense of depth or recess.
• Take pictures of the textures and colours of the objects.
• Think of this project as collecting impressions and perceptions of these objects and
let this guide your camera.
• You’ll need approximately 20 well-exposed images.
The idea behind this exercise is to imaginatively combine the different photographs
into a single conclusive design. Have a look at some Cubist paintings and sculpture as
inspiration. Notice how one object blends into another and how different viewpoints
of the same object co-exist in surprising ways. The classic example of this is Picasso’s
combination of the front and profile of a face, as in Weeping Woman, which you can see
on the Tate’s website. Then look at Brendan Fowler’s Spring 2011 – Fall 2012 on the New
York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) website, which attempts similar arrangements
using photography.
Combine the photos by arranging prints or by using Photoshop to assemble the images
as different layers. Cut the images and choose only fragments of each image, matching
up lines so they flow and placing shapes in meaningful juxtapositions as defined points
in the composition. You should find the composition grows into a large picture.
When you’ve finished the design, photograph it or save it as a finished picture.

Research

Picasso’s Weeping Woman

Tate (2018) shows Picasso’s painting Weeping Woman. The painting is the last of several he made that was based on one of the figures in his painting Guernica. The woman’s features are based on those of Dora Marr, Picasso’s lover.

The woman appears as a mix of portrait and frontal view and has a hand held up to her face. The central part of the face, which almost appears as if it had been sketched out but no filled in, is white. This part of the face also appears to be made up of the fingers of her other hand.

Although the face is clearly identifiable, when I focus on specific parts, for instance the eyes or the mouth, there is a sense of disjointedness, which disappears when I look at the painting as a whole.

Brendan Fowler’s Spring 2011 – Fall 2012

Fowler’s work by contrast is a lot simpler, and cleaner. MOMA (2018) shows his Spring 2011 – Fall 2012 work which consists of what looks like framed photos, or at least photos that have been printed with a small border that appears like a frame. The top  image has been torn and positioned so that it continues the circle created by the photo of the mirror that it overlays.

Unlike Picasso’s painting there is something serene about this work, it does not jar the viewer’s senses.

20 Images

Finished Picture(s)

MDG_8235MDG_8243MDG_8238

Reflection

With hindsight I could have cut the pictures in ways that would have allowed me to fit them together into a better overall image.

When I combined the individual images I tried several combinations. Firstly, in a way that attempted to reconstruct the individual items. Secondly, in a way that grouped the different items together from left to right and finally, grouping items so that darker images were to one side and lighter images to the other.

Although an interesting exercise, simply from the point of capturing the way that light and shadow were created by each of the selected items, it wasn’t one of my favourite activities.

If I was to undertake the exercise again, rather than start with the objects I would start with an idea of what I wanted to end up with and then work backwards in order to create the images that would support that.

References

  1. Tate (2018) Weeping Woman [online] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/picasso-weeping-woman-t05010 Accessed: 4th July 2018
  2. MOMA (2018) Spring 2011 – Fall 2012 [online] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/174111 Accessed: 4th July 2018