Focusing on pleasingly simple compositions, Director’s Choice winner Skip Smith will win over many a still life skeptic. His focus on form and composition, coupled with the decision to work in black and white, yields strikingly beautiful images. His winning image, Vine, is a fantastic example of his skill and passion for still life photography.
Simplicity is the key. I love still life work because contrary to much photography where the artist is capturing the just right moment and his or her success depends on whether that instant was 'perfect', a still life artist has to create the perfect moment.
For Smith, the actual composition of the scene comes second to finding a perfect object. “My still lifes generally start with an object that intrigues me. I am usually drawn to an unusual shape, or simple form frequently from the natural world, but old bottles and antiques also have been subjects.” Only then does Smith begin to choose other objects and create a background, always keeping his composition just complex enough to create visual impact. “Normally I only work with two objects, but there are exceptions.”
But Smith’s work is stunning not only due to his talent of arrangement, but also due to the richness and texture he creates in his work with his preferred method of printing, a somewhat uncommon process called “lith printing”.
The lith printing process uses standard black and white photographic paper with lithographic developer. The developer is made from heavily diluted standard developer. The resulting print has dark shadows and bright, soft highlights. This allows for tones, colors, and hues that are different from a traditional black and white print. This creates a unique depth in each print while the properties of this technique ensure that no two prints will ever develop in the same way. Smith goes through multiple round of printing before he is satisfied with a finished product. He often scans a final print so that he can then reproduce it digitally, because no two final prints are ever exactly the same.
One of Smith’s biggest inspirations is a favorite quote by Robert Adams, one that he always keeps in mind while he is working:
If the goal of art is beauty and if we assume that the goal is sometimes reached, even if always imperfectly, how do we judge art? Basically, I think, by whether it reveals to us important form that we ourselves have experienced but to which we have not paid adequate attention. Successful art rediscovers beauty for us.
Taking that last sentence to heart, Smith truly believes that his opinion is the only one that matters in determining his success as an artist. “I really cannot please anybody but myself. If others respond positively to my work by word or purchase, so much the better, but it is not paramount.”
Still Life: The Art of Arrangement is on view through October 27, 2012.