Still Life in Motion – a camera’s perspective

Initially intended as an exploration of states of mind and emotions through body movement, this body of work slowly morphed into a meditation on fragile life and relationships. Life becoming paradoxically more and more precious whilst crumbling away into broken shards and fragments. What once appeared clearly definable – relationships that appeared flawless and inspiring assume different shapes and textures. And change into a tanglement of both elevating and destructive elements. 

My camera eye translateds these musings into blurred shapes, broken contours, surfaces pierced by light or shadow to underscore the idea of fragility. Layering of shapes, some transparent, some solid, help suggest constant flux. Permanence, for me, means stagnancy, whereas movement seeks adventure, seeks the magical behind the obvious.

Why the prominance of feet as motif? When I mused on its significance as a recurrent motif, I discovered two possible reasons for it:

My childhood preference to swim under water. What else, than mostly legs and feet does one see under water in a municipal swimming pool?

Furthermore the symbolic meaning attached to feet, which I recently discovered at a NIA-dance class (NIA stands for Neuro-linguistic Action, and refers to a form of freestyle dance with a certain amount of repeated moves, alternated with improvisation.) The dance instructor had decided to focus a series of lessons exploring the nerve points, known as the Chakras. Serendipitous it proved for me when my first dance session, after a long break, co incided with the focus on the First Chakra. The lecturer announced, Feet were the focus – the part of the body linked not physically to the earth, but, joining the cortex to be known as the emotional base of the psyche, the area which connects us to the group, the family, core values which suggests stability and anchoredness.

The title, Still Life in Motion, derived from my recent collaboration with poet, dancer and retired professor and Head of the English Department at University of Cape Town, John Cartwright. He improvised on mundane movements – walking, dancing, playing with props like a hat. Great fun while I followed his movements with my eye glued to the view finder, here and there making suggestions as to the position between feet and hands and head. 

When I studied the images my computer, the idea of Still Life combined with Movement shot through my head. (An idea I’ve often pondered in relation to landscape compositions before.)

I cropped a fragment from the photo of John kicking his hat, to emphasize the Still Life -feel it suggested. I posted the image on my – internet gallery site for comments. My ‘find’ (combining still life with movement) was confirmed when an unknown commentator remarked on the ‘the simultaneous capture of motion and stillness’ in one and the same picture, that compelled him in these shots. I didn’t need further affirmation that, indeed, a moving person, can, in a certain type of composition, become a still life – an arrangement of dead objects, despite its moving parts/limbs. The title, Still Life in Motion was born. 

Playing with various associations evoked by the phrase, I extended the meaning of ‘still life’ to include: “there is still life in these old bones.”  Another side reference in fact to the latest explanation I had seen in a BBC-film, Earth Story, where the old idea of mountains being metaphors of stability and age, has now been identified, as rocks that rock with vigorous youthfulness as they are constantly changing, moving, dying and resurrected. 

The term, ‘still life’ of course  conjurs up a genre put to the forefront of genres, aside from Historical, Landscape genres in Art History. Specifically Dutch 17th century Vanitas still life painting comes to mind. These compositions would include, somewhat to the side and often in shade, a motif (skull, clock) added to the formal arrangement of fruit and flowers. They served as a moralistic reminder, within the display of abundance of wealth and health of the transitory nature of life. See the term ‘Still Life’ in French which, directly translated embeds the idea of life and death in ‘nature morte’ : ‘dead (still) nature’.

In short, my body of work, Still Life in Motion, continues a conventional tradition, and simultaneously also subvert that tradition. As the South African artist, Henk Serfontein remarked:

“Your work is like a flash light in the dark. Nothing concrete. Paradoxical. Whereas Photography, by definition sets out to freeze a moment or experience before it disappears, to capture in one picture the essence of an event,  your pictures do the opposite: they make things disappear, either in fragments or behind layers. Your work is the antithesis of photography.” 


22nd February 2014