What is still life? Although at its most basic still life is an assemblage of inanimate objects, historically the term refers to artworks that engage with concepts of achievement, ephemerality, and mortality. They rely on symbolic objects to suggest impermanence: flowers, fruit, books, bones. The English term “still life” contrasts with the French term for the same genre, nature morte, literally “dead nature.”
Unlike paintings, which are primarily intended as artworks, a still life photograph may originally have been made for another purpose. In Flowers, Fruits, Books, Bones: Still Life from the Center for Creative Photography, the exhibition features photographs initially made as descriptive documents intended for a range of uses, from advertisements to teaching aids. Regardless of intention, the exhibition explores how photographers use the characteristics of the medium such as focus, abrupt framing, and detailed description to extract, isolate, and describe their subjects. They direct our attention to shapes, textures, details, edges, colors, negative spaces, shadows, and unexpected angles.
A more common genre in paintings, the exhibition includes paintings from Phoenix Art Museum’s collection, inviting viewers to examine the ways photographers have approached the still life genre as compared to their painter counterparts.
Each of the works invite the viewer to slow down, to leave our normal lives behind, if only for a moment, and lavish our attention on each of these unique objects. For a moment, in the gallery, all motion, all life, is stilled.