Sharon Core – Still life photography
At a first glance Sharon Core’s still life contemporary images impress us with their exact likeness to known still life paintings and their true faithfulness to the genre’s history and tradition; we are amazed however once we realize that her works are photographs of real life compositions entirely created by her! And we mean entirely! From the plants grown, the food cooked and the cakes baked… to the furniture found, constructed and arranged… all in order to reproduce the already existing paintings through her camera lens!
In her two major projects the Theibaud series and Early American that resulted in series of photographs, Core managed to painstakingly re-produce the real life subject matter of two American still life painters’ compositions, Wayne Thiebaud’s and Raphaelle Peale’s, and photograph them!
Sharon Core was born in 1965 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She received a BFA from the University of Georgia in 1987 and an MFA from the Yale University School of Art in 1998, where she was awarded the George Sakier Memorial Prize for Excellence in Photography.
Core has had solo exhibitions at White Columns in New York (2000), Clementine Gallery in New York (2001), Bellwether Gallery in Brooklyn (2004), and Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York (2008). Her work has also been included in the Armory Show in New York (2005), Art in America: 300 Years of Innovation organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai (2007), and Paris Photo at Carrousel du Louvre in Paris (2008). The artist was awarded the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant in 2000. Core lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Sharon Core talked to Eleni Zymaraki Tzortzi.
E.Z. You have been trained as a painter and a photographer; why did you choose still life photography and not still life painting as your means of artistic expression?
It was never really a question between still-life painting or photography. When I was painting, many years ago now, I would make paintings from old family photographs. I came to photography out of a love for the moment the image is made. That fraction of a second has a delicious tension and is quite performative. Photography appealed to me in a way painting did not, because of its very real relationship to time.
E.Z. The most challenging part of making a still life photography is…
Every part. Its very demanding and requires a lot of intense mental focus and scrutiny without losing the sense of wonder and discovery. Of course, one could say this about the parctice of photography in general.
E.Z. Still life photography has been adopted/exploited extensively by the advertising industry.
Moreover, social media have altered the subject matter of photography towards an egocentric model and a new genre, the selfie, has emerged.
What do you believe is the place and the role of still life photography within this context today?
Photography is in a definite state of flux. I think very many photographers, myself included, are trying to make sense of the shift towards digital, the unknown future of film and film cameras, and the way photographs are perceived in the digital age and the way they are used as information. Pictures are pictures and their power comes from the poetry of form and their conceptual underpinnings. The selfie is a self-portrait by another name. Like the self-portrait, the still life has existed for millennia. Why? Because it is a rich and dynamic genre. Durer, Chardin, Picasso, Van Gogh, and more recently Wolfgang Tillmans and Thomas Demand all made/make still lifes.
E.Z. Traditional still life paintings were arranged compositions that always contained hidden, deeper meanings – a symbolism. Photography has the privilege of being able to explicitly refer to these meanings capturing real life situations/conditions; so why a photographer would choose to compose an arrangement of objects in order to convey a message?
Still-life paintings were no more “arranged” and symbolic than any other genre. The still life refuses to speak. It doesn’t have a story or a hero so it is harder to discern verbally. This is its overwhelming power and appeal for me. I think in the digital age documentary photography is no longer evidence of any real situation or condition, if it ever was. Photography (as practiced by people, and not AI) involves a point of view that is inflected by light, the lens in use, the height or position of the photographer and his/her emotional state and political and philosophical views. All of photography is illusion and it always has been.
I see my work as confronting and playing with aspects of representation, reproduction, and “realism.”
E.Z. Your still life photographs resemble well-known still life paintings; did you make this choice with the intention just to pay homage to the painters that made them or is there something deeper?
It goes much deeper. I am trying to address an experience of cultural memory. I chose Wayne Thiebaud because his work is very iconic and recognizable in the US. I grew up seeing it through reproductions of postcards, notes, calendars, and cookbooks. When I saw his retrospective at the Whitney the paintings felt deeply familiar to me. I felt this was an ideal body of work to recreate in reality because of its presence in the culture’s pictorial memory. With Raphaelle Peale, it was a different intention. In “Early American” I wanted to confront a pre-photographic sensibility, one that is also very psychological and particular to its age and a body of work that would address an American history of art and horticulture. In “1606 – 1907” I wanted to resurrect a dead genre, the floral still-life painting and trace its development over 300 years in the west until the advent of the auto chrome in 1907.
E.Z. How important is for you the process of designing, preparing and arranging a composition for a still life photograph? What does this whole process add to the final result, both visually and conceptually?
The process, yes, it is very intense and it makes the pictures look the way they do. I am trying to create images that don’t exist in the usual photographic lexicon, a kind of extreme pictorialism. I love playing on the edges of what the camera’s lens wants to see, which often involves fighting the curve of the lens, pushing the film to the darkest exposure before it all falls apart.
One can look at a photograph and see it as evidence, as a trace of time, place, and of the artist’s activity. There is a lot of activity outside of the frame that goes into making my work, although the photograph could not look the way it does if these processes did not occur. One cannot make a photograph of something that does not first exist in time and space. I am bringing the subject matter into my time and space in order to make the photograph.
E.Z. Do you think it is necessary for the viewer to be aware of the process and the (hi)story behind each of your still life photographs in order to fully appreciate them (many of the products you use for your photographs you literary produce them by yourself!)?
Hopefully the viewer does not need to be aware of anything but the work in front of their eyes. That is my intention. I would hope that the processes involved registers, at least (or maybe best) subconsciously and appears extraordinary in some way, uncanny even.
E.Z. What are your favorite still life photographs from the history of the genre?
Paul Outerbridge and Irving Penn have been influences, as well as Ad Reinhardt and Albrecht Durer.
If I had to name one still life photograph as emblematic it would be Outerbridge’s “Ide Collar,” from 1922. Duchamp pinned it to his studio wall.
E.Z. Your future plans/projects are…
I have created an unnatural/natural environment inside of a geodesic dome greenhouse, which has become my studio.
Sharon Core, https://www.artsy.net/artist/sharon-core