Jon Wild - Photographer

I graduated with distinction in Photography in all 16 modules undertaken at Solihull College in 2012 and I am also the proud recipient of the Pearson Award for outstanding student in this field. I briefly returned to the college to teach part time. I specialise in still life photography influenced and based upon the works of the Dutch master painters of the 16th and 17th century. After moving house, I am currently building a home studio at my new location where I intend to expand this body of work further.

As part of my photography studies, still life became a prominent part of my work. The frequency I returned to it at first was for rather mundane and practical reasons. With assignment deadlines ever present I would learn that models or make-up artists always seemed to let you down, the elements would never behave for outside location shots etc., I needed a more reliable subject matter. Sacrificing my main living room I turned my home into a studio and wherever possible used still life to fulfil assignments.
Researching the genres’ roots obviously brought me to the work of the Dutch Master still life painters of the 16th and 17th century and in particular their Vanitas pieces. I found the whole subject irresistible. The symbolism used offered a visual vocabulary for the viewer of four hundred years ago to interpret their meticulously created compositions and glean morally sound values of how life should be lived. In addition, the realism in these types of pieces is outstanding. I thought it would be an interesting spin and try to make my photographs as painterly as I could in composition and lighting alone. I’m glad to say that the interest kind of stuck.


Vanitas Still Life

Dutch old master paintings have long been appreciated for their beauty, evocative atmosphere, great craftsmanship and appeal to the heart and intellect. It has become increasingly clear in recent decades, however, that seemingly secular paintings from the 17th century often express more than a mere imitation of reality and their function was not purely decorative.

Segal, S. (1988) A Prosperous Past, Amsterdam: SDU Publishers

Of the many off-shoots from the still life genre in 17th century, Vanitas in my opinion has to be one of the most engaging. The reasons for the prevalence of these type of still life pieces at that time were dependent upon social, environmental, political and economic circumstances and perhaps too in depth to be covered here. However the symbolism involved was often used, somewhat bleakly, to remind the viewer of the brevity of life and the certainty of death. The origins of the term date back to the Latin biblical aphorism ‘vantias vanitatum omnia vanitas’ (Ecclesiates 1:2), ‘Vanity of vanities; all is vanity’. In this sense of the word vanity means both ‘empty’ and ‘frivolous’ and refers to the meaningless of earthly life. This message was of moralistic importance to the Dutch who in this period were the richest nation in the world. Their Calvinistic church were iconoclasts who had banned religious painting and so to the art loving nations’ prosperous excesses were in a small way kept in track by the messages gleaned through such paintings.

A visual vocabulary of symbolic meaning attached to objects and their placement in these compositions did indeed move these pieces of work to beyond just that of being decorative and it is perhaps this element that drew me further towards the subject. The Dutch masters had such skill in creating extraordinary verisimilitude in their work that almost brings a photographic quality to some pieces. It is this quality which I want to try and bridge four hundred year old subject matter through a modern medium.