Baron Adolph De Meyer

Baron Adolf de Meyer (also known as The Baron, Adolf Gayne de Meyer and Demeyer Watson) was a French born photographer who is known for being the first full-time photographer employed by Conde Nast and their lead photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines.

He seems to have been quite a character with famous friends in the 1890s and early 1900s including the Prince of Wales and many Broadway stars.

He is particularly noted for his fashion and interiors photographs but he also took still life images too.

By Baron Adolf De Meyer (American, born France, 1868 – 1946) (1868 – 1946) (American) (photographer, Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
De Meyer used a special hand ground lens to photograph some of his images to soften the shadow areas and hard edges.

Water Lillies, Baron Adolph de Meyer c1906

By Adolf de Meyer [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
His images are soft and glamorous and have a look of early Hollywood about them. The lighting is very gentle and the subject matter is arranged naturally.

They are simple photographs and perhaps could be described as truth by some because they closely resemble the items that they represent but even these images have been affected by De Meyer’s point of view, his choice of which bits of the subject is included in the image and what camera settings he has used.

Irving Penn

Irving Penn was an American photographer who first came to public notice following his work with Alexander Liberman, Art Director of Vogue magazine. Although many of the staff at the magazine didn’t rate Penn, Liberman supported him and he was encouraged to produce his first cover in 1943.

Penn’s first magazine cover for Vogue in 1943

Later, Penn founded his own studio and pursued a career in fashion, commercial and travel photography. He published several books and held several exhibitions but there are a few projects that I find particularly useful to my studies this year.

The Cranium Architecture project is a reminder of Vanitas. The hard studio lighting really highlights the shapes, cracks and pits in each skull and I think using the word architecture is clever as he is highlighting the construction of the skull very clearly. I can’t say that this is a subject matter that appeals to me but I can see that the images are masterfully created.

Cranium Architecture

Penn has also done a project called Small Trades where he produced full length images of people working in different trades, against a plain background. It is almost like a catalogue of different trades people of the era. As I look through, I am struck by how many of the trades are no longer around yet the people depicted are probably just one of several generations that have all been doing the same thing.

I found that looking at these pictures was quite useful in terms of finding the ‘truth‘ in a portrait. Although I don’t believe it is possible to capture the whole truth of a person in an image, these images certainly capture what the person does if not who they are.

Small Trades

Finally Penn’s Cigarette’s project is also notable. The cigarette butts are photographed simply and clearly and leave the viewer wondering what type of person would have smoked them.


This video gives a short overview of some of Irving Penn’s work.

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.


Still Life

Whenever someone buys me a bunch of flowers I try to take a photograph of them, usually a close up of the petals, as a lasting reminder of their generosity. After a rough week, a friend bought me these lovely orange and red roses. Instead of the usual snap I thought I would make them the subject of a still life image for my Interpretations assignment.

StillLife1webIt took me a week to get around to doing this but it meant that the flowers were nicely open. I arranged them on the table with the only apple in the house and as one of the flowers was just going over I removed the petals and scattered them in front hoping to give the photo a bit of a autumnal feel.

First of all the stems had been cut too long and the photograph appeared to be very green but once I had cut another couple of inches off and rearranged them in the vase it looked much better.

I used the natural light from a window and tried the arrangement in both portrait and landscape, with and without a gold mantle clock in the background to indicate the passing of time. This was the image I preferred.

I had another idea for this part of the assignment, to photograph tolls from the garage in an arrangement, which I will do if I get time before the hand in date.


For the ‘Decision’ element of the Interpretations assignment I have chosen to do a still life about my decision of where to holiday.

I chose several items that illustrate the kind of travel that I like and tried various ways of displaying them, shooting them from different angles until I was satisfied.


I had a bad back as I was doing this shoot and couldn’t lift my lights or set up my usual table so I improvised and set up on a deep windowsill, using a reflector to bounce the light from the window back into the darker parts of the scene.

The map was then quite bright so I under-exposed the image by a couple of stops to compensate.

I like a game of travel Scrabble but I felt that full size Scrabble letters were a better fit in this composition.

Contemporary Vanitas

A couple of weeks ago we had a visiting speaker at college, called Robyn Woolston, who said that what you throw away says a lot about you. I thought the things I throw away would make an interesting subject for my contemporary Vanitas image.

I chose a wicker wastepaper basket and pulled a few things out of it to see what it might say about me. Food wrappers, tablet foils, hair products, magazines, train tickets and more tells you about my lifestyle, where I’ve been, how healthy I am, what my interests are and what I value. Its a little worrying to think that someone can work out so much about me from the things I simply toss in the bin.

I planned to photograph them in the studio and make it look similar in style to a traditional Vanitas painting, using strong triangular shapes and trying to replicate window light, using one light from the side with another to light the background.

ContempVanitas1webI spent some time getting the composition how I wanted it. At first the big crisp packet dominated the image but looked much better when I folded it down and under the bin.

The first image was taken using the flash and looks fine. I’m happy with the way your eye is drawn in and around the image but as we had not used flash for the traditional version we did last week I tried this one without a flash too.

ContempVanitas2webAs suggested, the light is much softer and gives it a much gentler and more solemn tone. This is probably my preferred image.





For the third image I moved the light at the side to the back slightly and turned it to face towards the front a little. It gives the image a bit more texture but is far too dark for my liking.


This has given me an idea to create further images on this theme about people that I know.