Early Still Life


The still life work was at first problematic. To begin with an empty space, to construct a potential subject which I then photographed seemed alien to me. What was denied was the moment of recognition, of saying 'yes' to an aspect of the 'real' that had pre existed my attention.

However the method of working, the search for significant objects, the play of arranging and rearranging fascinated me and so the work continued and developed.

So, the 'studio', the empty space, the constructed image became my chosen mode of picture making. The studio represented a retreat, a haven, a space where more obvious fictions could be made. Where I could pursue a fascination with 'nature', but where the resultant images did not refer directly to an imagined state of the world.

The 'studio' is for me any space in my home in which I choose to photograph, where light beckons. I work exclusively with daylight, continuing a dependence on the rhythms of the day, of the seasons: morning light through an east facing window, long exposures in the dim light of winter.

Window light became then my raw material, it's capriciousness modified by the use of reflectors. A hierarchy of reflectors, white card, card covered in reflective foil, or the intense reflection of a mirror, either static or moving, allowing me to 'paint with light'.

So, a methodology, a way of working developed, as did a fascination with subject. The still life affords a wealth of reference. Botanical drawings became an area of research, as did other photographs and paintings. Developing my awareness of systems of representation through which botanical subjects have been explored.

My practice is based in the prolonged exploration of a place or motif which provides a context in which ideas or feelings can be explored through a process of picture making.Context may be defined in terms of a number of broad interrelated concerns; time, process, cycle, nature/culture which underlay production. I like to work in spaces or with objects that have become familiar but which through intense scrutiny may reveal themselves anew. I distrust the seemingly necessary frisson of the unfamiliar, the exotic on which so much photography seems to depend.Working in my domestic space with things that have become known is then my ideal work environment.

The activity of scrutinising, of ordering my images, is for me an essential part of the process of picture making. On a more prosaic level still life necessitates a process of accumulation, the collection of 'stuff' which becomes the raw material of the image making.

I keep my equipment as simple as possible. My early still life was all made using my old MPP and one lens, a Symmar S, 5x4 film and ID11 developer. Since the mid 1970s I have used the Zone System which develops an awareness of process and allows, through pre visualisation, a control of print tonality which became of the utmost importance to me as the still life work progressed.

The selection of prints in the "Early Still Life" collection shows the gradual move from the simplicity of the first leaf images to the more complex structures of the iris and petunia images. The layering in these prints relates to a more complex structuring of the subject prior to exposure, not to multiple exposure in camera which I did not use for still life until much later. They also represent a search for subjects that I could explore in depth. The early flowers became a series titled 'Cut Flowers', but it was never fully resolved and the series was overtaken by other later subject matter.

To return briefly to notions of fiction, there is a sense in which all photographs may be considered as fictions, the amputations of the frame yielding a selected reordering of reality. In my later landscape work I felt that this editing of 'reality' falsified the true state of the landscape, a space polluted and threatened by human activity. In still life photographs the image's status as fiction is obvious, does not refer to an imagined state of the world. I will return to the idea of fiction in relation to later collections.