Sam’s core artistic signature was built around shooting a model in the studio. While he mastered many forms of photography the studio was his natural environment, a place where he could exercise infinite control and experiment with the same shot over several days. ‘Still life’ fitted naturally into this mode of working and he produced many still life assignments for clients as well as his own creative projects. I have always felt that the long history of still life images in Sam’s books and other creative projects tend to be overlooked by editors and this blog series will seek to jog memories and celebrate Sam’s love of collecting, design, creative lighting, model making, set building and from time-to-time, an urge to make his still lives move! Above all still life is a love of the poignant silent dialogue between objects, shapes, light. From the very first artistic explorations of his childhood up to the week before his death Sam took an instinctive delight in juxtaposition, in making the assembly greater than the sum of its parts.
To the extent that there are strict ‘rules’ about what constitutes genuine ‘still life’ studies you will find them liberally broken in this series. Very often still lives or photographs of a single object were used by Sam as montage elements or the second image in a diptych/double page spread. I will also be including examples with live models where the image composition includes a direct homage to traditional still life or at least tips its hat at still life thinking.
Many of the objects in Sam’s photographs – with the obvious exception of ‘African Image’ were made by Sam or owned by him. He had a very Victorian collecting sensibility and the collection of art, crafts, furniture, Victoriana, toys and graphic icons acquired over 60 years with his wife Alida – who has a very keen stylist’s eye – often appeared in his images.
The series starts appropriately with the still lives and related shots from ‘Cowboy Kate’.
The ‘swinging’ lamp was actually moved to three positions – during a long exposure – by an assistant using a black pole tied to the lamp.
The long exposure used for the shot of ‘Kate’s Desk’ used candle light for fill-in. This is, in my view, probably the greatest still-life of Sam’s career.