On a recent visit to The Center for Photography in Woodstock, New York I had the pleasure of viewing the works of Justine Reyes. A series entitled Vanitas included photographs reflecting old Dutch still lifes in a similar vain but with a most sharp and contemporary air that was both refreshing and humorous.
Nothing was lost in translation, only visually and contemporaneously heightened, as Reyes transferred paintings of a historical past into photographs of a transient present. The usual suspects are depicted here: skeletons, peeled fruits with skins dangling off the edge of the table/picture plane, bouquets past their prime and on the brink of decay. Monochromatic shades, deep rich colors, ominous but peaceful environments, sharp spotlights, spacious foregrounds with deep recessions, all are clearly marked in each photograph as the artist masterfully reflects a movement and style of the past.
What brings these photographs to the forefront of contemporary photography is the artist’s interest in personal debris embedded with a history of its own, combined with a rather humorous arrangement of objects that would rarely reflect the decadence and vanity of an earthly endeavor. I laughed when seeing Still life with Cup and Melon, the silky billowing tablecloth replaced by bunched up saran wrap. There’s a deadpan humor here, suggestive of human interaction, witnessing the opening of last night’s fruit.
Still Life with Tea Set, Picture Frame & Cake is an image that assumes perfect ease and enjoyment, perhaps the artist’s grandmother is depicted in the frame, and perhaps it’s her favorite carrot cake with vanilla frosting and walnut toppings that gets her through the day. Every object is carefully poised, simple and elegant. Then WHAM, hello plastic spoon. These nudges of mockery, physical hints of our lives as disposable, were so clearly spelled out and in my opinion, funny as hell.
The series continues in this fashion of pairing historical style with personal touch, in order to reflect the present moment, which only decays into the past at every second.