The Persistence of Memory - Still-Life Essay

– Objects of many kinds have always fascinated me – not just for their physical qualities such as shape and texture, but often for the unique resonances they induce in the mind.  I saved many of the objects in these still-life photographs because of something I saw or felt in them.  Often this was something of personal significance, as with a souvenir or a memento.  Others were selected for their physical qualities, or for their potential to be viscerally or subconsciously evocative.  They might be merely unusual, rather bizarre, or quite unrecognizable, like the “objets inconnus” of the surrealists. 

– An artist with whom I feel a certain kinship in this regard is Joseph Cornell, who was also fond of using boxes, drawers, trays, shelves, and the like as settings for his constructions.  Considering the meaning of what one might put there or find there, one might even speak of the “drawers” of perception (with a nod to Aldous Huxley; the pun is irresistible).  But my work is perhaps less whimsical than Cornell’s boxes, and less visionary than Huxley’s doors, and more concerned with memory and symbol.  In recent years, I have been thinking more and more of Samuel Beckett in connection with my still-life photographs; they have some of that spirit.

– These still-life photographs are composed, with slow deliberation, over the course of many hours or days, and sometimes weeks or months, with instinct and impulse my main guides.  A few of the items in any given image may have been recently acquired, but most of them I have saved for years, knowing I might do something with them one day.  The arrangements seen here were photographed with a 4”x5” view camera using traditional film, and mostly in both black-and-white and color, even though most of them were essentially black-and-white in conception.*  I’ve managed to think of titles I like for some of them, but most of the titles are simply descriptive.

– For me, the persistence of memory, as inadequate as it sometimes may be, is a great blessing all the same.  Memory is a haven, a solace, and a source of wisdom.  Although sometimes painful, memory may be savored in a myriad of ways.  The present is usually too immediate to grasp with any sense of thoroughness or satisfaction – it tends to overwhelm.  Memory of the past affords the luxury of a deeper sort of reflection, and the benefit of a truer focus.

Allen Schill

© 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.

Links to the sections of this website that feature view camera still-life photography:

View Camera Photographs - Thumbnail Index   This is just what it says, and includes links to the sections that display large versions of the photographs, as do the next four links:

View Camera Photographs - View Camera Still Life (2002-2008)

View Camera Photographs - Prime Arrangements (1997-2001)

View Camera Photographs - Sui Generis:  Still Life (1987-2001)

View Camera Photographs - The Persistence of Memory (1987-1997)

The photographs in these two sections were done with the view camera, but only verge on still life in some cases.  There is really another idea here, and for formal reasons as well they deserve to be seen separately:

View Camera Photographs - Anthology and Rhythm

View Camera Photographs - Hard-Core Minimalist Surfaces and Textures

And, last but not least, the present-day, digital descendants of my work in view camera still life:

Deep Focus Still-Life Photographs - Thumbnail Index

Deep Focus Still-Life Photographs - The Photographs

Deep Focus Still-Life Photographs - Essay

*  This was before film was supplanted by digital, when I customarily exposed a few sheets of transparency film to serve as proofs.  (When I was satisfied with the color proof, I exposed the definitive black-and-white film negatives.)  With digital photography, there is no such need.  For a short interval I used a digital back on the view camera, and since then, using a digital SLR, have evolved a way to make digital files that match or surpass the definition of the 4”x5” view camera.

Using Format