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THE BLACK FRIDAY SALE IS HERE!
BUY 1 CLASS - GET 20% OFF
BUY 2 CLASSES - GET 32% OFF
BUY 3 OR 4 CLASSES - GET 36% OFF
AUTOMATICALLY APPLIED AT CHECKOUT

Whilst Joel Meyerowitz is best known for his street photography, his expertise in so many genres proves him to be a true master and still life photography is no exception. Running counter to street photography in so many ways, with its emphasis on still, inanimate objects on simple backgrounds rather than the bustling chaos of the urban centre, Joel’s insight into the genre is remarkably cogent, relevant not just to creating one’s own still life works but to the art of photography as a whole. The rustic surroundings of his Tuscan studio and his engagement with the works of still life painters Paul Cézanne and Giorgio Morandi might make for an intimidating backdrop to Joel’s lessons, but he possesses a humility in his approach that is inviting to the photographer of any level. Despite these archetypically artistic trappings, well-earned over Joel’s career but unavailable to most, the everyman nature of still life photography is well conveyed and any reservations the student has are swiftly banished. Though he may have access to the studios and possessions of such prestigious artists, his philosophy of simply bringing along a camera wherever you go and looking at all the facets of the objects around you until you find one that excites you, whether it be a seashell or a selection of fruits or a recently vacated dinner table, ensures a level of accessibility suitable for any photographer, and this is inevitably reflected in the mundanity of the objects photographed. Joel’s use of what he calls ‘interesting junk’ is demonstrated in his work on both Cézanne and Morandi’s possessions, photographing the various objects found in their respective studios, the subjects of their still life paintings. 

“This chameleonic backdrop lends itself to presenting an image of flatness… isolating the aforementioned ‘exciting’ facet of every bottle and jug”

“This chameleonic backdrop lends itself to presenting an image of flatness… isolating the aforementioned ‘exciting’ facet of every bottle and jug”

Such mundanity is further reflected in the grey walls of Cézanne’s studio, forming the background of his paintings and in turn, the backdrop of Joel’s photos. As he notes in an essay in Cézanne’s Objects, the rather neutral colour that is grey is subtly enhanced by light and shadow, taking on different tones at different times of day and with different surroundings. This chameleonic backdrop lends itself to presenting an image of flatness, as Joel notes, isolating the aforementioned ‘exciting’ facet of every bottle and jug.

“Through his manipulation of position and light, Joel shows us how to animate the inanimate, bringing life to each still life.”

Through this, a sense of life is imparted to the inanimate objects and such personification suffuses every aspect of Joel’s process. For him, every still life composition is a conversation between objects, the positioning of each object telling a story not through narrative but through ideas. Through his manipulation of position and light, Joel shows us how to animate the inanimate, bringing life to each still life. Furthermore, it is precisely the ‘junk’ nature of the objects used that allows this artistic value to be extracted from them. Their dilapidated form, each coated with their own signature patina, is indicative of a life lived, both by the object and their possessor. In short, every single object, no matter how mundane or quotidian, has a story. Having sat where they sat and photographed what they painted, Joel has communed with these still life masters through their objects in a kind of artistic séance, gleaning their techniques and distilling it into the photographic wisdom that we receive in his lessons.
 

In a time where travelling to exotic locales to photograph nature in all its glory or engaging with strangers for classic street photography are uncertain opportunities, still life is the perfect outlet for any photographer yearning to create – the natural pandemic-era genre. Even if you’re sheltering at home, there is no shortage of subjects for your photography, no matter how ‘boring’ they may initially seem.

Though the personal effects of Cézanne and Morandi possess a certain rustic charm that our own junk may lack, it must be remembered that most of the objects, at the time of their painting, were every bit as banal as our own. Some might assume that ‘legitimate’ photography must have, as its subject matter, things of enormous natural or political significance, but still life is the art of mining such significance from everyday objects, extracting the sublime from the mundane. Through Joel’s tutelage, we learn that nothing can be called boring under the gaze of the photographer, junk is never merely junk and grey is never merely grey.

Joel’s photographic insights go far beyond the still-life genre, extending to landscapes, portraiture and of course, his famous street photography.

Click below to find out more about Joel’s online photography course and see how he can teach and inspire you.

 

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