Constructed imagery


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


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.


• 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
• 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




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.


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)



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.


  1. Tate (2018) Weeping Woman [online] Available at: Accessed: 4th July 2018
  2. MOMA (2018) Spring 2011 – Fall 2012 [online] Available at: Accessed: 4th July 2018