The sixteenth century practice of Dutch still-life painting has long placed living objects—flora, fauna and food, primarily—alongside inanimate but significant tokens like skulls, porcelain, candles and books. Rich, velvety backgrounds, usually black, were awash with a matte natural light, and the artist's task was to paint petals most intricate and fruit most delicately nuanced to demonstrate their deft with a brush.
Oranges, 2010 by Jennifer Mason
New Zealand-based contender Jennifer Mason approaches this centuries old tradition with a modern twist, adding bold backgrounds to her compositions. In Oranges, red berries and a handful of the title-fruit are part of a vibrant palette that also incorporates aqua and yellow, recalling the bright colors popular to the 1950s. Magnolia also takes a modern twist; Jennifer has constructed and suspended a still-life mobile of branches and magnolia flower petals that appear to be floating in space. Although the objects are uncharacteristically raised-from-table, Mason maintains the even halo of light and rich color that are constant variables of the still-life style, while diverting from the accepted posture of items, front and center on the table surface.
Magnolia, 2010 by Jennifer Mason
Still Life With Fish & Orange Slices from the series Vanitas by Justine Reyes
Mason is one of a handful of photographers who have adopted this tradition of still-life painting, partaking in their own battle with form, function, position and color. Justine Reyes, in her series Vanitas, composes still-lifes that incorporate elements of family and memory, featuring photographs of relatives past and teacups and dishware that belong to unnamed family members. Both photographers walk the trickle of a line between life and death, placing symbols of life—succulent, fresh fruit—next to symbols of death: an extinguished candle, remnant fish bones, broken egg shells. In doing so, they insist that these images, while void of people, are very human portraits, comprised of the same fragile tension that exists in our life and inevitability of entering the world thereafter.