Studio Practice – Task 1: Still Life Pt 1

After my session shooting my interpretation of a classic master portrait last week, I thought it timely to start on the other studio practice task. This is to ‘build & photograph a still life set-up that will be inspired by a classical painting.’

The ‘to do’ list is as follows…

  1. Research classic still life paintings (you can use a painting where the still life is an important part) in books, magazines & websites.
  2. Choose one painting that I would like to interpret in the studio.
  3. Build a still life set up & consider a background that will match the subject.
  4. Use studio lighting, flash accessories & gels to illuminate the subject in a creative manner.
  5. Use flash meter in a confident manner to establish the required lighting scheme.
  6. Record well-exposed images.
  7. Evaluate my work.

After my visit back in December to the Carravaggio & Beyond at the National Gallery & a few discussions in class, I had a general idea of what to do. I had in my mind’s eye the kind of image I’d like to produce. But the key element with this type of still life is not just what you’re photographing or painting, but what is also represented by those objects. I’ve already gained a degree in Communications & have previously studied theoretical concepts such as semiotics. This (according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica website) is ‘the study of signs & sign-using behaviour.’ Time to get reacquainted with these concepts after almost 20 years…

According to this site, semiotics is:

“Defined by one of its founders, the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, as the study of ‘the life of signs within society.’ The idea of semiotics as an interdisciplinary mode for examining phenomena in different fields emerged only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the independent work of Saussure and of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.”

Peirce defined a sign as ‘something which stands to somebody for something’ and one of  his major contributions to semiotics was the categorisation of signs into three main types:

  1. An icon, which resembles its referent (such as a road sign for falling rocks).
  2. An index, which is associated with its referent (as smoke is a sign of fire).
  3. A symbol, which is related to its referent only by convention (as with words or traffic signals).

The site continues with its explanation:

“Saussure treated language as a sign-system, and his work in linguistics has supplied the concepts and methods that semioticians apply to sign-systems other than language.”

One such basic semiotic concept is Saussure’s distinction between the two inseparable components of a sign:

  1. The signifier, which in language is a set of speech sounds or marks on a page.
  2. The signified, which is the concept or idea behind the sign.

This means that the class still life paining I’ll be reinterpreting won’t just be the image, but looking up the meanings of each item included.

For example, one of the paintings in the Carravagio’s Boy bitten by a Lizard possibly refers to the pain that can derive from love, as explained on the National Gallery’s website.


Another image I found when researching on the National Gallery is this one by Francisco de Zurbaran (1598 – 1664), painted in 1630.


The explanation with the image reads:

“The silver plate is of a kind imported into Spain from Peru. Here the objects may be intended to have a symbolic character: the water in the cup perhaps refers to the Virgin’s purity and the flower recalls her title of ‘Mystic Rose’. ”

So starts this task. Time for some web research & gallery visits.

Criteria Ref: P1 & P4.



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