I wanted to start with a still life showing the things that were important to my elderly relatives or have influenced their life, but that also gave a sense of time passing and mortality. My initial list of things to include was ‘medicines, disability, fruit, clock, calendar, books’. To be set on a natural wooden background with strong side lighting to suggest a setting sun.
I decided to look through previous images, mostly paintings, which included some of the above topics. I searched Google Images for still life, fruit, book and found several images that I thought attractive. I particularly liked an image by an artist called Fred Marsh that is titled ‘Kettle, Books and Fruit’.
I decided to try to create my own version of this image, not a straight copy of the painting, but an image based upon it.
I replaced the kettle with a globe to signify the international nature of my family (my father in law was born in India, my wife in Pakistan). It also signifies the passing of time as in the earth turning on its axis every 24 hours. In some of the early photos I took I tried spinning the globe before firing the camera shutter to give a slightly blurred effect to signify the passing of time.
I kept the apple and grapes from the original painting but substituted an orange and banana for the pears. Fruit has long been used in Western Art to symbolise mortality and that is my intention here, the inclusion of the very ripe banana in particular. The books I chose to use tell something of the story to follow –my father in law had been diagnosed with dementia and over the period in which I was producing this assignment we were researching the various care options for him. The title of the upright book demonstrates this. Both my father and mother in law are disabled and the parking permit has been included to signify this. The books on the art of India and the specular reflection on the globe next to Pakistan are intended to reflect the international nature of my family and the people affected by this story. Medicines seem to take up an inordinate amount of time and importance in my relatives’ daily life, so the medicine boxes are included in the centre of the still life arrangement.
I tried arranging the cloth on which the still life rests in the same way as in the painting, i.e. forming a V shape on the table, but I could not get the same effect as in the painting. Instead I used the sheet to cover the whole of the table.
I arranged the apple, clementine and grapes to form a triangle near the centre of the image. I tried to achieve a similar effect with the book on Dementia and the disabled permit, with the book and permit receding into the scene so that the triangle is formed on the top of the art book on which they are standing.
I liked the lighting effect of the original painting and wanted to produce something similar, so that it looked like late evening light. To achieve this I used a studio flash head at about 45 degrees from the camera position and slightly above the level of the still life scene. I adjusted the position of the light so that the shadow of the globe was cast just where I wanted it, not overlapping the book. The angle of the light is intended to signify the end of the day and to enhance this effect I used a bastard amber gel over the flash to give the colour of evening light. To keep the shadows sharp and give a bit of fall off of light on the edges of the scene I fitted the flash head with a snoot.
My intention in this photo is to suggest;
· Passage of time
· Disability (physical and mental)
Although there was a slight blur when I spun the globe, the fact that I was using flash meant that I could not have achieved a very blurred effect as the flash would freeze movement. I could have used available light with a slower shutter speed. This would have given a greater impression of the passing of time (the earth turning on its axis) but this would have been at the expense of my highlighting India/Pakistan with the positioning of the reflection on the globe. I might also have found it difficult placing the shadow of the globe exactly where I wanted and achieving the effect of the evening light.
Lens: VR 18-55 F/3.5-5.6G
Focal Length: 22mm
Exposure Mode: Manual
No adjustments have been made to the image.
How could this image be improved?
I am very pleased with the final image; I would have liked to recreate the V-shape of the table cloth as used in the original painting. Were I to take the photo again I’m not sure that I would use a pink cloth on the table, perhaps a thicker, plainer cloth would be better.
What have I learned from taking this photograph?
This was my first real attempt to tell a story within a single photo and I learnt a lot from it, not least how useful it can be to research an existing image that you like and then produce your own version of it.