The Ephemeral Nature of Life (and Glassware)

TheBigYin

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A Still Life Study, in the Vanitas Tradition

I Happened to mention in passing, whilst in the pub, that I was thinking of shooting a Still Life that included a Violin of some sort - but I was having problems sourcing one at a sensible price for a prop... My friends never cease to amaze me with the things that they have squirrelled away in some dark corner of their attic. Once again I got the comment "Well, I'm pretty sure I've still got the one from when one of my kids was learning to play, I'll have a look over the weekend and give you a call..."

And, that's all it took - a couple of days later i'd got a fairly bog-standard looking Chinese entry level violin, bow and case in my hands... Okay then, time to start thinking about ideas for what to shoot...

The obvious first point of reference was 'Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball' by Pieter Claesz... Now, I've never been particularly successful with including glass balls or reflective spheres in my shots, and, much as I'd have loved to spend a month or two actually fiddling around until I could get something i was happy with, There, really, really was no way I could just hang onto the Violin for the amount of time that it'd have required for me to actually teach myself to do this kind of tricky lighting (or, for a low-tech approach, to have built a "fourth wall" with the whole "artists studio" painted on it, Trompe-l'œil style...)

So, I took on a couple of cues and clues from the Painting - the Books, Skull, Quill Pen and Roemer, and added in a few slightly different items...

as a "first draft" I came up with this...

Musical Vanitas by The Big Yin, on Flickr

Obviously derivative, but with the Candlestick further to the left of frame, just to avoid the whole "reflective sphere" problem, and with the lighting to the opposite side of frame... On the whole, I quite liked it, however, something about the position of the glass just wasn't working for me. So, I repositioned it, and as I returned to my camera to check the overall composition I heard a rather sickening crash behind me. The damned glass had tumbled from my "Table" and hit the solid baseboard a foot or so below. Diamond Etched Crystal Glass doesn't bounce, and there's now one less piece of intact very old glassware in this world.

Gutted. Gutted and Filleted even. Probably my favourite prop for this kind of shooting - gone. But, I couldn't let it pass without using the remnants as a kind of "farewell appearance", and I decided to create a similar arrangement, but almost a mirror Image layout... The Title came to me as I was carefully arranging the incredibly sharp shards of broken Roemer...

The Ephemeral Nature of Music (and Glassware)

The Ephemeral Nature of Life (and Glassware) by The Big Yin, on Flickr


A couple of extra "artefacts" added to the picture, which were intended to give clues to some failed romance, The Dessicated Rose by the side of the Skull, hinting at a romance long since gone but still deeply felt, the "Heart of Stone" - presumably, the attitude that caused the romance's breakdown...

The Smashed glass, and the pills scattered on the table implying the possible demise of the protagonist, and the Claret Pitcher because... well, without something to contain drink, there would have been no reason for the Roemer to have been on the table in the first place...

Looking at the picture now, my only real regret with the shot is that I actually cut myself on one of the shards while clearing up the wreckage, but cleaned the blood off the broken glassware before taking the picture. It seems strange that I "bled for my art" and then stupidly didn't use it to my benefit. I thought of this as soon as I saw the image onscreen in Lightroom, but drew the line at going back into the studio, pulling off the plaster and "dripping" on the glass and table...

I may be daft, sick and slightly twisted, but I'm not THAT daft, sick or twisted...
 
This is great! I am learning a lot from your posts. Thanks for taking the time to explain the significance of the elements in the image and their relative positions. :namaste:
 
I like this. It really does have a Vanitas feel. This might be fun to try one cold rainy day. :)
 
I always enjoy your still life images, as I know that there is a lot of thought provoking symbolism in them all which means I have really look, study and think about them to really see what is there.

Apart from any enjoyment of the image per se, they provide excellent lessons in how to really look and observe which translates to any genre of photography.

So, thank you for posting.

Edit to add:

I was deliberately not making any specific comments on the image, as you've explained everything so well, but on coming back to this thread and seeing the image on a proper monitor rather than my tablet, more details are revealed, and I really, really love the second "heart" which is part of the violin which I missed in the gloom of my screen first time around.
 
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A Still Life Study, in the Vanitas Tradition

I Happened to mention in passing, whilst in the pub, that I was thinking of shooting a Still Life that included a Violin of some sort - but I was having problems sourcing one at a sensible price for a prop... My friends never cease to amaze me with the things that they have squirrelled away in some dark corner of their attic. Once again I got the comment "Well, I'm pretty sure I've still got the one from when one of my kids was learning to play, I'll have a look over the weekend and give you a call..."

And, that's all it took - a couple of days later i'd got a fairly bog-standard looking Chinese entry level violin, bow and case in my hands... Okay then, time to start thinking about ideas for what to shoot...

The obvious first point of reference was 'Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball' by Pieter Claesz... Now, I've never been particularly successful with including glass balls or reflective spheres in my shots, and, much as I'd have loved to spend a month or two actually fiddling around until I could get something i was happy with, There, really, really was no way I could just hang onto the Violin for the amount of time that it'd have required for me to actually teach myself to do this kind of tricky lighting (or, for a low-tech approach, to have built a "fourth wall" with the whole "artists studio" painted on it, Trompe-l'œil style...)

So, I took on a couple of cues and clues from the Painting - the Books, Skull, Quill Pen and Roemer, and added in a few slightly different items...

as a "first draft" I came up with this...

Musical Vanitas by The Big Yin, on Flickr

Obviously derivative, but with the Candlestick further to the left of frame, just to avoid the whole "reflective sphere" problem, and with the lighting to the opposite side of frame... On the whole, I quite liked it, however, something about the position of the glass just wasn't working for me. So, I repositioned it, and as I returned to my camera to check the overall composition I heard a rather sickening crash behind me. The damned glass had tumbled from my "Table" and hit the solid baseboard a foot or so below. Diamond Etched Crystal Glass doesn't bounce, and there's now one less piece of intact very old glassware in this world.

Gutted. Gutted and Filleted even. Probably my favourite prop for this kind of shooting - gone. But, I couldn't let it pass without using the remnants as a kind of "farewell appearance", and I decided to create a similar arrangement, but almost a mirror Image layout... The Title came to me as I was carefully arranging the incredibly sharp shards of broken Roemer...

The Ephemeral Nature of Music (and Glassware)

The Ephemeral Nature of Life (and Glassware) by The Big Yin, on Flickr


A couple of extra "artefacts" added to the picture, which were intended to give clues to some failed romance, The Dessicated Rose by the side of the Skull, hinting at a romance long since gone but still deeply felt, the "Heart of Stone" - presumably, the attitude that caused the romance's breakdown...

The Smashed glass, and the pills scattered on the table implying the possible demise of the protagonist, and the Claret Pitcher because... well, without something to contain drink, there would have been no reason for the Roemer to have been on the table in the first place...

Looking at the picture now, my only real regret with the shot is that I actually cut myself on one of the shards while clearing up the wreckage, but cleaned the blood off the broken glassware before taking the picture. It seems strange that I "bled for my art" and then stupidly didn't use it to my benefit. I thought of this as soon as I saw the image onscreen in Lightroom, but drew the line at going back into the studio, pulling off the plaster and "dripping" on the glass and table...

I may be daft, sick and slightly twisted, but I'm not THAT daft, sick or twisted...
These are nice still lifes (still lives? :) ). The candlestick might have been used in the second one to signify a life "snuffed out". I keep looking at them as there is a lot of detail and effort in these images.
 
..I really, really love the second "heart" which is part of the violin which I missed in the gloom of my screen first time around.
ah, the chinrest - I'll be honest, that was initially a "happy accident" on my first revision of the setup - but once i'd noticed it, I think I took the best part of 30 minutes of tweaking positions and re-locating lights to bring it out. It's actually one of the things in the picture that gives me a real kick when I see it, because it reminds me that over the process of a dozen or more images, I began to learn how to "see" the shapes occasionally as being more than just the objects themselves but as something deeper.
 
The candlestick might have been used in the second one to signify a life "snuffed out".
That's been a recurring theme in many of my images, I think to be honest, the size of the Violin and the fact that I wanted a "tighter" composition limited my space for props, and this time I made the decision to add the Claret Pitcher was more in-keeping with this particular work - the "something missing" I mentioned from my "prototype" shot was simply that I needed something to make there be a reason WHY the Roemer was on the table.

While sometimes it may appear that I just take the "big box of spooky old props" and plonk a random selection on the table, normally, my actual approach is nearer to writing a short story - I start with a story in my head, and having a pretty visual imagination, I kind of see it like a movie. My images are probably more like that movie's "storyboard" frames - a single key-frame of the movie that tells a big part of the plot.

I keep looking at them as there is a lot of detail and effort in these images.
There was far more effort than many would credit - honestly, the hours in arranging and lighting the image pale into insignificance compared to the time I spent hunting for props, or building false walls and tables... Even the candlestick and it's wax dribbles were "staged" - I think the dribbles in the first photo are something like Mk IV or V :yikes:
 
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