A bit of New Year’s inspiration arrived in the mail yesterday – After All, featuring the work of Canadian photographer Laura Letinsky. Recently discovered via Clear North, Laura has become my new muse.
As with much great art, the power of Laura’s work lies in a dichotomy inherent within each piece. At first glance, her photos look like serene still lifes – like minimal, modern versions of the Dutch Masters. In her work we see the dramatic, atmospheric chiaroscuro characteristic of a Vermeer, illuminating a quiet, domestic scene – sumptuous food (not quite a feast) or lush florals. Small and intimate, they draw you in.
Then you notice that all is not what it seemed from a distance. Here again is the decay and allegory of Dutch Golden Age still lifes adapted to an edgier, more contemporary audience. What looked like a precious porcelain vessel is in fact a Dixie cup, more trash than treasure. A pile of luscious peaches is beginning to rot. Flowers are wilting, their water turned to a bilious green. The meal is but a memory. All that is left now is the carnage.
Here also, the simple planes and architecture of traditional tabletop scenes, are pushed to an extreme. Taking advantage of empty space, Laura’s compositions literally teeter on the edge of a void, effecting not just an emotional, but also a physical response to the work. At the same time as you are slightly repelled, you also want to leap in to catch the precarious slop.
If, with their still lives, the historic Dutch Masters seemed to be warning against the detachment that comes from too much decadence and overindulgence, Letinsky’s pieces appear to caution against a more modern indifference. One, that in our rush towards increasing technological efficiency and instant gratification, makes us dismissive of the past and disdainful of the slow. One in which, if we are not careful, may cause us to miss those things that truly make life worth living: a bouquet of wild flowers placed in your grandmother’s antique vase, or a laugh shared with friends over a home cooked meal.