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HomeContentsThemes > Bizarre still lifes

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Another type of still life that can be fascinating, and disturbing, is the creation of bizarre worlds where the viewer is drawn in as a voyeur into the mind of the photographer. The surrealist doll series by Hans Bellmer is like this as are the strange black and white shots of Tom Drahos the toy like recreations of historical moments by David Levinthal, or the incidents occurring in the snow globes of Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz that appeared in the Winter 2003 edition of 'Aperture'.
Bizarre still lifes
Fuchs, Daniel & Geo
Fetus, 8 months, with tumor 
[Conserving Humans] 
Giorgio Sommer
PompeI, plaster cast of dog Nr.18 
1865-1870 (ca)
Hans Bellmer
[La Poupée] 
Joel-Peter Witkin
Still Life with Breast 
The contorted dog preserved by the volcanic ash at the buried city of Pompeii is taken by Giorgio Sommer as if it is an oddly composed sculpture. With Daniel & Geo Fuchs their desire is to record the human and animal specimens stored in preserving fluid for research purposes - although they have the functional purpose of reference specimens when taken out of context they become intriguing objects of beauty.
The items mentioned above are uncommon sights outside of archaeological or scientific publications, museums and research institutes but what happens when the photographer creates exhibits specifically to be photographed. The German surrealist artist Hans Bellmer (1902-1975) did this with his carefully posed shots of a contorted mannequin in his La Poupee (The doll) series. These are still lifes but the fabricated realities take them into the realm of fetishism.
Joel-Peter Witkin uses still lifes that sometimes mimic earlier styles but the included objects, a breast or partial human face, subvert the genre or push it to the extreme. In the flower paintings of Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) insects and dying flowers were included to symbolize the passing of life - with Joel-Peter Witkin the severed head is actually included.
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The search for novel and intriguing still life photographs continues unabated both by commercial photographers and by fine artists seeking to provoke, stimulate and amuse with new concepts. The photographs of Michiko Kon are an example of this trend with her surrealistic constructions of marine life made into everyday objects such as a shoe partly constructed out of cuttlefish or a jacket made from fish. The images are bizarre, surreal and startling but at the same time stunningly beautiful.
Fantasy and the still life
David Levinthal
Mein Kampf 
David Levinthal (Photographer); Roger Rosenblatt; & James Young
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Michiko Kon
Michiko Kon: Still Lifes 
Michiko Kon (Photographer); Ryu Murakami (Introduction); & Toshiharu Ito
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