Tavormina and the Tradition of Still Life Photography

Still life was the genre of choice for pioneers in photographic experimentation. Well-suited to exposure times that could be minutes, it allowed early photographers the ability to photograph carefully composed scenes. Nicéphore Niépce’s The Set Table (1827) is the first known photographic still life.

Even in this very earliest of photographic still lifes, the harmonious arrangement and simple composition hint at a humble but wholesome way of life. Hippolyte Bayard, Jacques-Louis-Mandé Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot were all drawn to still life but as the field expanded it was side-lined by portrait and landscape photography. Still life only regained importance in photography in the late nineteenth century when the Pictorialists, believing that photography should emulate other art forms, returned to it. Photographers like Heinrich Kühn and Edward Steichen thought that still life could be more than just a documentation of worldly objects and that it could express inner thought, often through the evocation of deeply personal symbolism. It is in this tradition that Paulette Tavormina works. Tavormina’s work dwells on the trace left on history by the photograph and its invention of the past. The elaborate displays of nature’s abundance point to the fluid cycles of life and death that are conversely halted by the photograph.

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