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.
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.
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.
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.
- David Bate | BUNGLED MEMORIES (2009) At: http://www.davidbate.net/ARTWORKS/BUNGLED-MEMORIES.html (Accessed on 2 August 2018)
- Laura Letinsky → ILL FORM AND VOID FULL (2010) At: http://lauraletinsky.com/photographs/ill-form-and-void/ (Accessed on 2 August 2018)
- 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)
- 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)