Book Review – The Measure of All Things

The Measure of All Things – On the Relationship between Photography and Objects,

This book looks at a style of photography, still life, that I am increasingly enjoying more and more, from very contemporary images to traditional, still life has a multitude of different affectations. The ability to be able to control every aspect of the composition from choice of subject right through to export sharpening settings it gives the photography complete access to the process of showing what they want, or as little as they want from there personal thought process.

This book shows the work of seven contemporary photographers, focusing on the objects they have captured and there representation in photography, in each case it shows a diverse approach and style. Each approach shown in the book shows different strategies at which the aesthetic  qualities available to photographers today, but in this case 1998, when the book was published, however we can appreciate how it has continued till today.

Weiermair (1988:6) said in the opening of the book that “photography remains dependent upon reality. Quite unlike other aesthetic languages – painting or literature for instance – photography must, regardless of its power to alter or estrange, rely upon the external reality of the world of objects as the point of departure for such interventions” This understanding of the continuous amateur argument of the battle of the arts is an interesting departure of the technical elements a person may focus on and gives the reader the interesting viewpoint of not what the artist is doing, but from where they are doing it from, in photography’s case, it is from reality, regardless of what post production can alter there will always be that element of truth, reality and the world at that precise moment. It is at this time I consider an Ansel Adams quote,

“Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs”

I think the key word here is ‘believe’ which trust is an emotion carried by all but each with a different appreciation, however belief is something you have or have not, which in the terms of photography is as unique as the reality shown in photography compared to any other art form. Whereas compared to that literature and painting, although both can both represent an age or a time consistent with the present, there will always be that element of perspective from the author or artist that is bent from the consensus. By taking the work of Irving Penn as an example, his photograph depicting a pear, camembert and a single ant is a wonderful minimalistic example of truth and reality, something that could not be reproduced time and time again with this exact result, in comparison to this we can consider the Caravaggio painting ‘Canestra di Frutta’ in its own right a wonderful and eye catching still life painting, however it doesn’t represent the reality of the world that we know photography will do. This is further understood when we consider a more modern artist, Peter Burgess and his painting ‘Still Life and a Red Straw’ this example is certainly of a modernistic style and furthers the understanding of an artists ability to capture and produce something that alters the reality in ways that photography cannot.

A couple of the photographers included in this book were Ann Mandelbaum and Peter Peryer, firstly Ann Mandelbaum begins her segment with the words “The object, photographed, fades and then regains form. Solid shrinks to membrane. Membrane swells to organ. The skin of thing shifts in the skin of space” this poetic verse, in my mind represents the forms of which an object takes when it is being photographed, it goes from its usual state and through the procedure of a still life set up it alters in its meaning, its uses and its size and becomes by a new entity, in a more mainstream understanding of that it leads to an advertising industry, by taking an object with its usual connotations, for example lip stick, on a dresser, in a hand bag or on the lips of the user it maintains itself as a tool and accessory, however by photographing it, especially in an advertisement situation it automatically gets the label as something to attract, something sexy, something every women would need, this may be in some opinions considered a marketing device rather than a photographic but considering the point made earlier in regards to the reality of a photograph, the image has to give the idea in the most graphic of sense. However when you look at the work of Ann Mandelbaum in this book, the 12 images, all printed on Gelatin-silver, are of a far more subtle understanding, taking the image ‘Untitled (#175) (page 51) the image, of what looks like a birds eye view of a pear, uses a very shallow depth of field, only capturing the top quarter of it before it fades into blur, this may be a more obvious reference to the pretext to the images but I tend to believe that these are strenuously composed and coupled with the printing methods add to a mysticism of the subject. Peter Peryer, an Australian has kept is body of work relatively small, focusing on producing a selection of milestone, or reflective images. His approach to photography is reminiscent of early photographers however when considered more deeply they call upon the viewer to view them in a more focused mindset, looking at the originality of the subject matter and the history of what it may represent, for example the image ‘Headless Chicken’ is very wonderful lit and shoot photography of a head and featherless chicken presented in such a way that was open and welcoming, while the subtle shadow and tonal range is exceptional in giving the subject depth and texture. A better example for my understanding of Peryer’s work is his photograph titled “After Rembrandt” which was inspired by Rembrandt’s painting of a little shell of the same species, this was done because the original shell of the Rembrandt painting was originally from Oceania and when viewed by Peryer he did the reverse journey, taking a shell of the same species and taking it back to New Zealand where he created this image.



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