Unlike its Northern European counterpart, which were coded with luxurious objects that captured the burgeoning merchant import economy, Spanish Baroque still life sought the transcendent. Ordinary objects became broader reflections on spirituality where objects glowed from the inside with mystical radiance. That is the foundation of my still life photography project.
By 2003 I was a full-time theology student. I began the study a decade into my career as an artist. The blend of thought and practice from both disciplines came together in my artwork. My undergraduate thesis in photography ten years earlier was a study of Catholic iconography re-imagined through the lens of Hollywood glamour portrait photography. As my study at the Bangor Theological Seminary evolved, I briefly considered revisiting my undergraduate thesis to update those interpretations, taking inspiration from the more profound inquiry I was experiencing. (Ultimately, my Master of Arts thesis went down an entirely different path.)
Alongside my theological studies, I deepened my research into religious iconography in art. I have always been a fan of Italian and Spanish Baroque paintings, where lighted subjects emerge from primordial darkness. The simple, elegant paintings of Juan Sanchez Cotan—a devout Catholic much influenced by the religious mysticism of his time—stood out to me. In his tightly composed bodegones, Cotan depicted more than ordinary fruits and vegetables. What is it about empty dark voids and luminescent lighting that instigates transcendent emotions? Trained artists are aware of the classical approach to composition known as Golden Ratio (or Divine Proportion) and Cotan’s Still Life paintings did much to exploit those rules. Yet with a notable absence of any overt iconographic references, Cotan’s work generates a quiet and erudite spirituality. It is hardly a wonder that he relinquished his career as a painter to the path of monasticism.
I did not set out to replicate Cotan’s painting (nor become a monk), but rather dissect the path that led him to his discoveries. I collected the spoils from my refrigerator along with things found during my walks to the studio. In reality, the objects were entirely incidental to my explorations, except for the rare moment when I became fascinated by the monkfish head and (during a bad breakup) a pig heart (not shown). My process in the studio consisted of minimal lighting, a large format camera, film, and absolute isolation. On the “other side” of each day I would feel the tremendous satisfaction of having experienced something. Often it was a struggle to detach from the objects in front of the lens. I had to overcome clinical observation to arrive at an unforced place where I was simply trusting that all of my instincts and training would rally and coalesce.
The Still Life body of work grew. I had not intended to exhibit the work, but eventually decided to create print editions of key pieces and had several successful shows. The study paused at a very specific (and emotionally arresting) moment when I knew I had reached the pinnacle of my exploration. I have not publicly exhibited the work from the last Still Life photo shoot. I have only shared them with a few close friends. Ten years later I have posted them on a private page, and you may reach out to me for the password.