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Informing Contexts - Critical Review Video Presentation

We have this week had the chance to produce a 10 minute video to provide a critical review of our practice and work in progress. This has given me chance to pull together my thoughts and work to date, in terms of context, references and the planned output of my work. The video is shown below and has also been shared with my peers on the course so that I can receive independent feedback. I will post a second blog reflecting on this feedback in the coming days.

The process is also an opportunity for me to watch, review and feedback on others videos and it will be great to see the diversity of ideas and projects currently taking place.

Below is a transcript of the video:

Words for Critical Review Video

In A Moment Of Still

Hi my name is Steve Rabone and this is my video presentation.

The start of Informing Contexts coincided with a personal review of my practice, as I wanted to add more meaning and purpose to my work.

I would therefore like to start this video with a short statement of intent….

Through the medium of still life I am exploring what a photograph is and the relationship it has to the artistic qualities of a painting.

My aim is to therefore create a series of images that have an aesthetic of beauty whilst retaining an element of ambiguity.

Through the use of specific objects, words and accompanying triptychs the viewer is given a moment of still to reflect on the meaning and the feelings evoked by each photograph.

Seize not the beauty, for the memory will fade

The young rose held captive in the picture frame as his elder siblings fall from grace and out of favour

I have always been drawn to photography as an expression of my artistic intent, Ansel Adams quote resonates with me, many of my images carrying that extra aesthetic to give them a ‘fine art’ quality.

I therefore wanted to explore what makes a photograph and how it compares with paintings.

I was immediately drawn to the work of Caravaggio, the dark shadows and vibrancy of colours mixing with the accurate representation confirms, as is quoted, that his paintings are made from life.

His still life paintings, like Heda and Ruysch that followed him, have realism that makes them appear almost as photographs…. Such as mine shown here captured in a similar style and composition.

However the stand out image for me during this review remains this one by Cotan. The likeness to real life, the unusual almost modern composition and yet this was painted in 1602. Even now I am convinced this is a photograph.

I have explored the artistic qualities and compositions of paintings, this image of raw wine being one example. The use of a shallow depth of field and high ISO to give it that painterly look.

As Susan Sontag points to the fact that a photograph is a trace, so this image of the blueberries was only possible because they existed in front of my camera.

I want my work to have context and meaning. I want to move beyond the descriptive. A goblet of grapes or a bowl of blueberries need to offer more meaning than just being a portrait of the subject.

As Magritte highlighted that this was not a pipe so I want to consider both the signifier and signified in the preparation and production of my work.

Panofsky talks here of the painters desire to saturate their work with meanings and many paintings do include hidden meanings and context only visible to the trained eye. I have explored the many uses of symbology in art.

For example pomegranates have a number of meanings including eternity and eternal life. Similarly the fig can represent the womb and by inference fertility.

I have been inspired by many photographers during this research including Irving Penn, who’s still life work offers a fresh style and approach, whilst keeping its foundations in the artistic world of paintings.

Ori Gersht’s compositions and practice take this to another level, and whilst I have not blown up any fruit or flowers yet, his style and use of dark backgrounds appeals to me.

As Susan Sontag refers the painter constructs his work, as we see here from Contan’s painting and yet the photographer discloses something else, illustrated perfectly by Gersht’s reimagining of Contan’s work.

I also adore the work of Sharon Core, again the dark background, the subjects frequently wilting or passed their best days, a nod to the vanitas style of art. Many of my images use dying flowers and decaying fruit.

As Alec Soth suggests the best photographs are those that have ambiguity, perfectly illustrated by Core’s ostrich egg.

The creation of this ambituity is not easy, especially when there is a desire to adding meaning into your photographs. This image of dragon fruit is a good example. This will not be in the final work in progress where the meaning is too literal and descriptive.

I want my photographs to continue to contain beauty but rather than have a painterly aesthetic I want there to be an indexical trace.

As John Szarkowski points out, I want my photographs to invoke the tangible presence of reality.

I intend to use specific subjects and composition styles, many with anthropomorphic qualities that give them human characteristics as this can help the viewer relate to what is being implied.

For example the lowly orange looking up in envy at the more highly regarded avocado. Or the pomegranate destroyed by the actions of man.

These images from my work in progress also highlight another deliberate process and that is all images are shot in a portrait orientation.

Conscious that social media plays a vital role in the output of my work I want to maximise the viewing of these images as they scrolled through on a phone or tablet.

Szarkowski identifies the benefits of different vantage points and the work of Barbara Probst illustrates this with her multi camera technique.

I have developed a similar approach to my work , taking additional macro photographs from different vantage points.

These images will be used to create a triptych that acts as a prelude to the viewing of the main photograph and gives the viewer a chance to see a sense of the scene whilst without the complete narrative of the final image.

As can be seen here the three close ups of the lemon give a clue as to the full scene.

The half peeled lemon signifying both time passing and the mortality of life. The dark bottom of the image denoting where our lives will ultimately pass to.

Whilst I intend to add context to my images through symbology my work will also involve the use of text. As Roland Barthes identifies, the text can give the image it’s anchorage and help identify the scene.

Jeff Wall stated that photography has many similar qualities with poems and I am looking to add one or two lines of personal poetry to accompany these images. These lines are being written ahead of the shot or as the image is created.

We are here but for a fleeting moment, and yet in our decay

The line of poetry here adding context and guidance to the sad scene of the dying flowers a reminder of our mortality

The creation of my work is all digital camera based and in exploring the relationship between photography and paintings I have been experimenting with a technique called light sculpturing.

With exposures of between 30 to 90 seconds I slowly light up the scene with the use of a torch. The light is literally painted onto the subjects which makes this akin to painting.

The final results give a sharp even focus which again is another similarity with painting.

As my work in progress comes together so I am considering the best way to display and view these images and poetry. I intend to produce a book to exhibit the work in. This will enable me to retain a degree of control on how the photographs and words are viewed.

A simple illustration is shown here.

As Roland Barthes points out, whilst paintings can feign reality, photographs establish the fact the thing has been seen.

I recognise many similarities between paintings and photographs both in terms of their execution and output.

As an artist I intend to continue using my camera as my paint brush to both create and disclose my work and capture the reality that is before my eyes.

Thank you for watching and listening.


Anon, (n.d.). Ansel Adams: The Role of the Artist in the Environmental Movement – The Ansel Adams Gallery. [online] Available at:

Gilles Lambert, Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio and Gilles Néret (2007). Caravaggio : 1571-1610. Köln: Taschen.

Sontag, S. (1978). Susan Sontag on photography. London, Great Britain: Allen Lane.

Vanseo Design. (2016). An Introduction To Semiotics — Signifier And Signified. [online] Available at:

Willette, J. (2013). Erwin Panofsky and Iconography, Part Three | Art History Unstuffed. [online] Available at:

The Irving Penn Foundation. (n.d.). The Irving Penn Foundation. [online] Available at:

Mysite. (n.d.). Photography. [online] Available at: (n.d.). Sharon Core - Artists - Yancey Richardson. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Mar. 2021]. (n.d.). “Sleeping by the Mississippi”, An Interview with Alec Soth. [online] Available at:

Barbara Probst. (n.d.). Barbara Probst. [online] Available at:

Szarkowski, J. (1970). The photographer’s eye. S.L.: S.N.], [Cop.

Barthes, R. (1990). Image, music, text : essays. London: Fontana. (n.d.). Jeff Wall Interview: Pictures Like Poems - YouTube. [online] Available at:

Barthes, R. (1988). Camera lucida : reflections on photography. New York: The Noonday Press.


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