Size Test


This work was influenced by classic era still life painting and my long-term explorations with studio fabrication‭.  ‬In historic‭ ‬Vanitas painting of the Renaissance era‭, ‬rich, symbolic visual elements were used in still lifes to remind us of our mortality‭. ‬I‭ ‬found it curious when in this “nature morte” genre‭, a.k.a. “still life”, something was included in the arrangement that was not dead‭.  ‬The‭ ‬snail was such an element‭.  ‬I imagine it was supposed to represent something that aids in the decay of living matter‭; ‬or even the slow‭, ‬inevitable passage of time‭; ‬or the creeping nature of death‭; ‬or humility‭; ‬or perhaps just everyday life‭.  ‬Back then‭, ‬snails were even symbolic of the Virgin Birth and the dogma of immaculate conception‭ ‬(snails have the ability to change sex ‬to whichever is needed for reproduction)‭.  ‬The meaning of many of these ancient metaphors are often quite speculative and obscure‭. 

The fascinating inclusion of snails moving slowly through a still life arrangement led to me to explore this as a theme in my own work‭.  ‬On a trip to France‭, ‬I visited an escargot farm‭, ‬picked up some healthy snails‭, ‬and smuggled them back to Colorado‭.  ‬I‭ ‬raised these snails over a period of years in order to have subjects readily available to photograph‭. 

Over time‭, ‬I got to know my snail’s markings and individual “personalities”‭.  ‬Some of them would do things others would not‭.  ‬For example‭, ‬snails are repelled by oil and would never climb an oil can‭.  ‬In the image of the snail mounting the oil can‭, ‬I put a small piece of a wooden toothpick in the end of the oil spout‭.  ‬This gave my best performer something which it was willing to grab‭ ‬on to in order to make the idea possible‭. ‬Only one of my snails would do this‭. ‬

Watching them slowly stretch out of their shells to search their surroundings is like watching a Martha Graham dance performance‭.  ‬They don’t have a sense of vision but they do sense things with the dots at the end of their antenae-like body extensions‭.  ‬I‭ ‬soon realized I could entice and direct them to stretch in certain ways and even to‭ ‬‬look into the camera by holding a piece of carrot in front of them‭.  ‬They slowly stretched out of their shell towards it‭.  ‬I would tease them with the carrot and when I‭ ‬had directed them where I wanted‭, ‬I would snap the picture‭.  ‬Still life stages were fabricated for the snails to perform in‭, ‬hence the series title Cirque‭.‬

The public’s reaction to a snail often varies‭  ‬from endearing to revolting‭.   ‬They are seen as cute‭, ‬idealized creatures in fairy‭ ‬tales and cartoons‭.  ‬Gardeners‭  ‬perceive them as slimy slugs devastating the environment‭.  ‬We can empathize with the snail’‬s nature to withdraw into its protective shell when life is perceived as threatening‭ (‬the psychological phrase “coming out” refers to‭ ‬this metaphor‭).  ‬The snail has well established itself as a fascinating creature within the human psyche‭.  ‬It is easy to understand why this life form has such a rich history as a metaphor in the still life tradition‭.‬

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