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Nature Morte

May 9, 2010

Beautifully dead

Nature morte is French for still life, the art term for paintings and images of inanimate objects. Especially in painting, still life’s have been a way for artists to arrange natural and man-made objects to depict a particular design or idea. Popular since ancient times, flowers, stones, fruit, animal carcasses, shells — all have been depicted, sometimes taking on allegorical or religious meaning. From its beginnings, photography, too, has had its eye on the the still life and artists have used it as a tool in much the same way. I love still life photographs, but especially those by controversial artists Robert Mapplethorpe and Joel Peter Witkin (click for examples); both employ the inanimate in ways that have layers of meaning beyond their subject matter. In Mapplethorpe’s case a bunch of flowers can seem not only alive but human, and Witkin’s vase of flowers was human at one time … this is the still life at its most extreme. My still life photograph, above, is an attempt to show a progression from death to another life. The impulse came from finding the amazing lizard in the foreground, already dead, being used as a chew toy by the dogs. After taking it from them, I discovered the shimmering, deep turquoise markings on its underside, and wanted to honor and record their beauty …

It didn’t seem right to just take a head-on shot of the lizard’s carcass, I needed more. Scanning both inside and out of the Rancho, I settled on a flat river rock and bone for the reptile’s resting place. Next, a bizarre planter in the form of a pebble encrusted hand with tiny succulent growing out of the palm, seemed perfect as a next step in the lizard’s afterlife progression. Finally, a twisted tree of copper wire with turquoise and other stones, resting on a geometric metal Japanese frog, finished the scene and ending this statement about life beyond death. Nature morte means dead nature, literally, but recorded in a photograph or painting, what once breathed can live on.

Note: click on the image, then click again. At full size you can see the blue scales on the lizard’s underside and they’re truly amazing, not to mention gorgeous.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Marjory Harris permalink
    May 9, 2010 4:37 pm

    This is a Western fence lizard (http://www.californiaherps.com/identification/lizardsid/sceloporus.sm.id.html) You gave it a lovely memorial.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      May 10, 2010 4:21 am

      Marjory, thanks for the helpful link and the comment!

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