Summer still life

Peony, June 2020

LOCKDOWN IS ENDING, GRADUALLY, BUT I’M NOT SURE WHAT’S LEFT ON THE OTHER SIDE. I’m hoping there’s work – assignments, maybe some travel – but it’s still too early to know. I have a box of books and another of envelopes, ready to send out to art directors and photo editors, but I have no idea if they’re in their offices, or if they’ll ever return to them. This would be a great time to be anxious, but I’m not sure what that would accomplish.

And so I return to still life work – the great discovery and consolation of the past five months. With summer came flowers, the first real blooms, lush and vibrant. The poppy came from a plant that persists in the most inhospitable spot in our front yard. Most years it never blooms, but this year it gifted us with two brief, beautiful blossoms, one of which I sacrificed to the lights in my kitchen studio.

Poppy, June 2020
Poppy, June 2020
Peony, June 2020

The peony came courtesy my colleague and neighbour Steve Stober, who gifted it to me just after I took delivery of a new set of lights – a pair of LumeCubes that I’d had my eye on for months. Shooting up close in the kitchen studio had made me long for very small point source lights I could modify and shape easily, so I took the plunge and invested in a kit that came with a bunch of tiny gels, diffusers, grids, snoots and barn doors.

And as usual, the flowers looked just as interesting after their blooms had dried out or died. At least to me.

Peony, June 2020
Poppy, June 2020

Food and cooking remain a preoccupation as long as dining out in a restaurant is either inconvenient or a risk some people are unwilling to take, so our regular deliveries – products of a system that seems to have created itself and matured in what seemed like weeks – are a constant source of subject matter.

Mushrooms, June 2020
Lemons, June 2020
Savoy Cabbage, June 2020
Blood oranges, June 2020
Savoy cabbage, June 2020

We were once worried about shortages. Now there’s sometimes so much that regrettable spoilage happens. No matter – more subjects for the kitchen studio.

Rotten apples, June 2020
Rotten citrus, June 2020

With July came my birthday, and a bouquet of flowers from my wife. Like any flowers that come into the house, they end up in front of the camera at some point, either while fresh or (preferably) while their bloom begins to wane. A gift of birthday money from my in-laws turned into another new toy: my first real macro lens, a 7Artisans 60mm that provided a new luxury – being able to change framing without swapping out macro extension tubes, and the ability to come in really, really close.

Rose, July 2020
Dahlia, July 2020
Rose, July 2020
Delphinium, July 2020

This year has been full of surprises, most of them unexpected and unwelcome. I think most of us would agree on that. But when I put on my (mostly unused) optimist’s hat, I have to admit that it’s given me the opportunity to explore and refine still life work more than ever before in the nearly 35 years I’ve been taking pictures.

And since it would be a shame to waste the brief, fine summer weather, I went out into the back garden with my camera, backdrop and stands to find subjects among the flowers, veggies and weeds. 2020 has been a year that few of us will forget; I don’t think I’m alone in hoping that, when it ends, the round of musical chairs we’re playing with the economy will still have a place for me.

Allium, June 2020
Thistle, August 2020
Walking onion, June 2020
Thistle, August 2020
Coneflower, August 2020
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