Artist Jonathan Carroll shares his thoughts on still life photography
I find it impossible to ignore the rise of the still life as a form of visual expression in contemporary culture; especially still life photography. One quick scroll down your Instagram feed should land you on someone's attempt at creatively showcasing their lunch, coffee, or desk arrangement, and probably doing a pretty damn good job. Whereas this is still life in the purest sense, it is certainly not the art of still life. There is a lot of good to the blending of commerce-style imagery and art, but to the trained eye, the distinction is still clear and important. In terms of my own still life photography, my lens is fixed on nature.
I have been a fine art still life photographer long before Instagram existed, and when I first graduated in May of 2007 from the School of Visual Arts, it certainly wasn’t on the top of anyone's list of things to care about for obvious reasons. That landscape has changed dramatically in a rather short period of time. Now, I find people interested in the aesthetics of inanimate objects, and living beings -- like plants -- for their viewing pleasure; an area that appeared to be headed into a visual depression artistically (online at least because the gallery scene is a completely different post).
Pickle Plant | Photograph by Jonathan Carroll
This certainly hasn’t come out of nowhere; as most resurgences I believe do not. Our planet is quite literally undergoing changes that are going to make it very difficult for our species, and countless others to survive in our current forms. If you don’t realize that is a fact, you’re probably highly religious or a member of the Trump administration. For those of us that are not a member of these groups, I believe we’ve begun to wake up and treasure a different objectivity: a well designed planter with a living being inside that will grow, flourish, and can be passed down has far more value than a $300 pair of jeans. This is certainly what triggered my return to nature many years ago.
When I bring objects in from the natural world to photograph them abstractly, it is with the intent that I’m paying homage to their existence. A deep appreciation for nature has inspired countless artists, but the impressionists always seem to make their way back into my photographic conversation. If you think about my still life photography and the subjects I represent in photographic space, the photographs often take on the textures and qualities reminiscent of this exact era of artistic expression. By framing my subjects just right, I’m able to use the bokeh to conjure a certain visual familiarity to the energetic marks and strokes that have graced the canvases of painters from impressionism all the way through to abstract expressionism and beyond. I’ve always played with the camera’s natural abilities to create this allusion to an era past, and it’s no surprise that it has been found in nature.
Tendrils | Photography by Jonathan Carroll
This is my aesthetic, and the world is my inspiration. Thank you for reading and please check back soon for more thoughts on the art of the still life.