Still life of various objects arranged in a window.

Window Still Life, 1987


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 13 1/16" x 10 1/8"  (id#141) 
Still life of various objects arranged on a light box.

Light Box Still Life, 1987


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 13 1/16" x 10 3/16"  (id#135) 

Still life of various objects arranged on the shelves of a light box.

Backlit Still Life, Horizontal, 1991


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 10 1/4" x 13 1/8"  (id#187) 

Still life of various objects arranged on the shelves of a light box.

Backlit Still Life, Vertical, 1991


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 13 1/8" x 10 5/16"  (id#188) 

Arrangement of used hormone patches on a light box.

Untitled (Estradiol Patches), April 1991


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 13 5/16" x 10 1/4"  (id#189) 

Still life of toy plastic doves arranged on an old wooden tennis racquet.

Doves on Racquet, 1991


4"x5" format, archival digital pigment print, 32.1 x 40.8 cm.  (id#421)


I have never been able to make any gelatin-silver prints of this image because the black and white negatives were ruined by the lab.  Still, I was able to make excellent pigment prints departing from a digital scan of a 4"x5" color transparency of the subject that I had first made, as usual, as a proof.

Still life of nutshells and a glass dish arranged on a cutting board.

Glass Leaf and Chestnut Hulls on Board, 1992


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 47.0 x 29.2 cm.  (id#198) 

Still life of various objects arranged around a framed crucifixion.

Rosy Crucifixion (Fourth State), 1989


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 12 3/4" x 10 1/4"  (id#134.4)


Some prints have been made of the three prior states of this composition.  I have made several other pictures in progressive "states", much as an artist will make proofs of succeeding states of an incised plate or a lithographic stone.  I think of them as alternative versions of the same idea, and sometimes like the earlier versions as much as the final, definitive one.

Still life collage of various objects affixed to a board.

Epiphany (Construction with Surgical Gloves), 1990


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 13 1/4" x 10 1/8"  (id#166) 

Relief impression of various objects in a slab of plaster.

Untitled (Plaster Relief), 1992


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 13 1/8" x 8 5/8"  (id#194) 

Still life of various objects arranged in an improvised cabinet.

The Persistence of Memory, 1989


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 42.8 x 37.2 cm.  (id#131)


This one of my few photographs with a title that means very much.  (Usually my titles are simply neutral and descriptive, sometimes with a subtle suggestion implied by the title, but rarely loaded with meaning.)


No melted clocks here, but see the comments in the text on the last page of this section of the website.

Still life of various objects arranged in a compartmented shelf or box.

Toy Shelf (A Case of Curiosities), 1997


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 46.2 x 37.5 cm.  (id#596) 

Still life of various bits of vegetation arranged in a compartmented shelf or box.

Gardener's Box, 1997


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 36.6 x 43.9 cm.  (id#617) 

Still life of various objects arranged in a compartmented shelf or box.

Compartmented Box with Dried Fruit, 1997


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 36.6 x 43.9 cm.  (id#592) 

Still life of various objects arranged in a compartmented shelf or box.

Untitled (Box Assemblage, Vertical), 1991


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 46.3 x 37.4 cm.  (id#191) 

Still life of various objects arranged in a compartmented shelf or box.

Untitled (Box Assemblage, Horizontal), 1991


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 37.1 x 44.5 cm.  (id#192) 

Still life of chips of wood arranged in a compartmented shelf or box.

Compartmented Box with Wood Chips, 1997


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 45.8 x 37.2 cm.  (id#618) 

Still life of various objects arranged in a box.

Box with Stars and Rubber Tube (Drawer IV), 1990


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 10 1/4" x 11 7/8"  (id#171) 

Still life of various objects arranged in a box.

Box with Wishbone and Doll (Drawer VI), 1991


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 10 3/8" x 10 5/8"  (id#190) 

Still life of various objects arranged in a box.

Drawer with Brick and Bear Head (Drawer I), 1990


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 9 5/8" x 13 1/8"  (id#168) 

Still life of various objects arranged in a box.

Box with String and Wire (Drawer VII), 1997


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 36.8 x 37.1 cm.  (id#598) 

Still life of various objects arranged in a box.

Drawer with Mango Pit and Corks (Drawer V), 1990


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 10 1/8" x 12 5/8"  (id#172) 

Still life of various objects arranged in a box.

Drawer with Rotary Saw and Corn Cobs (Drawer V), 1990


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 10 1/4" x 12 5/8"  (id#170)

Still life of various objects arranged in a box.

Drawer with Plastics and Electronics (Drawer II), 1990


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 10 1/4" x 12 5/8"  (id#169)

Lao Tse and Sancho Puerco Visit the Museum of Toys, or Toy Museum for short.  A more traditionally-composed still life, with a great many toys and other objects arranged on a table top.

Laozi and Sancho Puerco Visit the Museum of Toys, 1987


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 10 3/16" x 13 1/16"  (id#133)


Laozi - a.k.a. Lao-Tzu, Lao-tze, and Lao Tse - is considered the author of the Tao Te Ching and the founder of Taoism.

Still life of thawing fruit and other objects.  A more traditionally-composed still life, with frozen but thawing fruit and other objects arranged on a table top.

Frozen Fruit, 1987


4"x5" format, gelatin-silver print, 10 1/8" x 13 1/16"  (id#128)

Still life of a life mask with beef bones, furs, and a US flag.

Flag, Furs, and Bones with Life Mask, 1987


4"x5" format  (id#148.2)


Here the objects are arranged in a chair, and the perspective is roughly what it would be if you were looking down into a coffin.  It's also a bit like a reliquary; the bones are real but not human.  The furs probably were fake, but in ratty condition either way.  The life mask I've used occasionally before in other photos; it's of an old friend.  The flag is a disgrace to the flag, and probably to the photograph too.  At any rate, the flag's loaded, push-button symbolism was something I wanted to avoid, at least after this image.  (But why, really? The symbolism is multivalent, which to me is a very good thing.)  I suppose I just wanted more subtlety.


Related to this is a feeling I've had about Cindy Sherman's work: while I think her film stills are extraordinary (and many other things she's done), in some of her work she gets gratuitously grotesque - that she's doing it for shock value.


Related to this is a feeling I've developed about David Lynch's film: I like them very much - very engrossing, evocative, disturbing - but sometimes it seems to me there's very little under the surface, that they are insubstantial.

The Persistence of Memory


This group includes some of my earliest view camera still-life photographs, made with a variety of compositional approaches, gradually evolving towards the kind of images that I have been making ever since.  They are arranged here loosely by approach rather than chronology (and by trying to put the better of them first).  A few of them are not quite so old, but are grouped here due to their affinity with a thematically key photograph, the eponymous "Persistence of Memory" of 1989.  This notion is central to a lot of what my photography is about - and not just still life. The nod to Salvador Dalì doesn't mean much, as I'm not sure just what he meant anyway by "The Persistence of Vision".  But I have a good idea of what my title means in the context of my work, and there's nothing too cryptic about it.  


The grouping that clearly follows (and resembles) "The Persistence of Memory" is that of the "pigeonhole" or shelf compositions.  These images portray wood blocks (or turned chair legs cut into pieces), or dried fruit and vegetation, or (in one case) toys, knickknacks, souvenirs, and other objects.  For those with the wood blocks, I can't deny a certain influence of Louise Nevelson, whose constructions I rather admired even when I was just an adolescent who looked at a bit of art.  (Where I have used the same "container" more than once, I invite the comparison.)


The earliest photos were (in part) exercises in working with the table-top photographic set:  their perspectives, aimed slightly down, and their arrangements of objects receding into space, are typical of conventions observed by the old Dutch still life painters up to Cezanne and beyond (and of course in ordinary commercial product photography).  While gaining experience with the view camera with these first images, I was trying at the same time to differentiate my pictures through unconventional subject matter.  (As much as I love many works of still life from the past, I've never tried to imitate any particular artist or tradition, preferring to take a little from many sources, and to contribute something of my own.)


In "Frozen Fruit", for example, instead of the usual fresh fruit in a basket, I took bruised apples, pears, and overripe bananas straight from the freezer, arranged them quickly but carefully on the set, and photographed them after the frost had formed.  Together with the other objects - none too beautiful, and even a bit strange - I hoped for a subtly disquieting effect.  In "The Museum of Toys", I wanted to exploit the visual and psychological effect of the sheer abundance of the many small, curious objects, and perhaps to see them with the sense of wonder of puerile eyes.  (There is even a playful "narrative" element - something like the little stories kids invent when playing with dolls - introduced by the two figures at upper right which are stand-ins for Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.)  Although for the most part my work has evolved towards simplicity, a part of me still loves to work with complexity, to try to put, if possible, even too much in a composition.  The "Flag, Furs, and Bones with Life Mask" is also of this initial period, but shows a tendency toward the grotesque or the sensational that I have since tried to avoid.  (I have made a few other pictures of this sort, but much worse than this one.)


Another group, the boxes and drawers filled with all kinds of collected material - bones, metal parts, rubber hoses, corncobs, doll parts, bootlaces, etc., etc. - I call for fun the Kitchen Sink photographs, or else (punning on Aldous Huxley's book) "The Drawers of Perception".  Their strategy too is one of assault by abundance.  But all these odd objects are not the true subject - rather, it is something that happens inside your mind when you observe them (as is the case with all my work, or should be).  When I made them, a friend whose judgement I trust very much said that they seemed to her "unresolved".  And she was right - I had a lot further to go with this idea.  (Therefore, although they might be interesting in this light, I have given them a reverse pride-of-place near the end of this section of the website, figuring they might be noticed less.)  But I have always had a lot of clutter and confusion in my life, and so these pictures were something I had to work through.  Gradually I found ways to organize, discipline, and assimilate the disorder, which led me to a kind of synthesis.


One grouping is obviously chosen for the use of backlighting.  Two of them are from my first year of work with the view camera.  One of these, the "Window Still Life", is unique for me in not having been constructed on a set.  It may resemble many of my other compositions in being carefully organized, but was in fact practically a documentary photograph of a window in my apartment in which I'd been collecting and arranging things for years (without at first thinking of making a picture).  This only goes to show that the organizing principle I follow is instinctive, and that it makes little difference whether I take seven years to gradually build up a subject or half an hour.  "Light Box Still Life", of the same year, was composed on a large light box, using only its own illumination for the exposure.  These were followed a few years later with three more compositions with rear illumination - two with the objects arranged on sagging acrylic shelves (a bit like the highly "technical" photos of Clinique products that Irving Penn did years ago, but with a kind of anti-commercial slant), and one with a series of hormone patches arranged to form an irregular pattern.


A few more pictures are somewhat hieratic - with a rigidly frontal composition that arranges things before us, perhaps with a sort of upward "movement" or vertical organization - especially "Rosy Crucifixion" and "Epiphany".  The setting of the "Rosy Crucifixion" is a shallow box which contained (under glass) a Baroque-style frame and a Christ on the Cross, both made with the cheapest sort of injection-molded plastic, fake silver and fake gold.  I removed the glass and arranged the animal skulls, the desiccated roses, and so on.  (I've used this setting again for two other photographs.)  "Epiphany" is essentially a collage of various items on a piece of board, photographed.  The "Untitled (Plaster Relief)" is just that - a relief of several small objects.  It is certainly less hieratic, with its loose composition, but not far from much abstract painting that may be loosely symbolic.  More hieratic in their formal organization, but whimsical in their content, are "Doves on Racquet" and "Nut Hulls on Board".


These images exist in limited editions of fifteen signed and numbered prints of any size and any type of print, whether traditional analog silver-gelatin prints or digital pigment prints.  They consist principally of gelatin-silver prints (as they were made when I still routinely made traditional prints and had not yet adopted the use of a digital pigment printer), sized mainly to a format of 16" x 20" or 11" x 14".  Because I generally did not complete the editions in gelatin-silver, I have begun to fill them out with most images by making digital pigment prints in A3Plus, not to exceed a total of fifteen.  For example, of "Backlit Still Life, Horizontal" (id#187), I already have ten signed and numbered gelatin-silver prints, and in recent years have made three digital pigment prints, so I can make only two more pigment prints. 


For an artist's statement regarding these images, see the last menu item in this section, "The Persistence of Memory - Still-Life Essay". 


© 2014 Allen Schill.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced or used without prior written permission from the author.  Anyone is welcome to link to it, or to quote brief passages, but I would like to be notified. 

© Copyright Allen Schill

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