At its most basic, still life is an assemblage of inanimate objects. Historically "still life" refers to artworks that engage with concepts of achievement, ephemerality, and mortality. They rely on symbolic objects to suggest impermanence: flowers, fruit, books, bones. The English term “still life” contrasts with the French term for the same genre, nature morte, literally “dead nature.”
Unlike paintings, which are primarily intended as artworks, a still life photograph may originally have been made for another purpose. In Flowers, Fruits, Books, Bones: Still Life from the Center for Creative Photography, the exhibition features photographs initially made as descriptive documents intended for a range of uses, from advertisements to teaching aids. Regardless of intention, the exhibition explores how photographers use the characteristics of the medium such as focus, abrupt framing, and detailed description to extract, isolate, and describe their subjects. They direct our attention to shapes, textures, details, edges, colors, negative spaces, shadows, and unexpected angles.
The exhibition also includes paintings from Phoenix Art Museum’s collection, comparing the photographed still life genre with their painted counterparts.
One of a series of thematic books that survey the Getty Museum's collection of photographs, Still Life in Photography features 80 plates and an insightful essay written by a curator at the Getty about the major aesthetic and technical developments that have shaped the genre.