Family Vanitas

Following on from the Vanitas project we have been working on in class, I wondered which items some of my family might choose to put in a Vanitas image.

I decided to convert the lounge into a bit of a make shift studio one evening. I set up a table, covered it in black paper and hung more black paper as a background. I didn’t want the background and table to distract from the item I was photographing and I wanted a darker gloomier feel to the photos.

I set up one soft box to the left of the table to light the Vanitas items and and set another light up behind the table to light the background. The set up wasn’t ideal but it was the best that could be done in such a small space.

A lot of the Vanitas paintings have a portrait in them somewhere so I included the person whose items I was photographing and used an old mirror frame to emphasise this idea.

I calmly talked the project through with my nieces and nephew and asked them what kind of items we might include in each of their photos. We talked about what items they might have included last year and do they think they might choose different things if we did it again next year. It was all very sensible and educational. Then I asked them to gather the things we had spoken about and all hell broke lose! The piles of items grew, the toys they chose got bigger and they even changed their outfits to their favourite clothes. They wanted to get involved in displaying their items and as they have me twisted around their fingers I gave in and my nice triangular display shapes went out of the window.

I wanted to focus on this idea of life being vapour and fleeting so I didn’t use the flash, set up the camera with a longer shutter speed and asked the children to duck out of the picture after a few moments. They loved doing it and two out of three of them took it very seriously indeed.

I find the final images a bit disturbing. These are three children, that are very full of life and that I love very much, looking like ghosts and as if they are no longer with us. Each picture perfectly describes their character and the things that they are into.

Not satisfied with ‘doing themselves’ they then created a version for mum and dad and gave me instructions for creating another for nanny and grandad. The adults were less good at ducking out of the image but I particularly like the way that the mum and dad picture has them interacting with the items chosen for them.

The final image of nanny and grandad was a bit easier to do. They still displayed the items themselves to be sure their most important items were clearly visible but with a lot more room and a large picture window on the right of the table, all I needed was a reflector in order to light the display.