How do these fit with the tradition of still life paintings?Paulette Tavormina:
I have long been fascinated by the magic of everyday objects, the majesty and delicacy of nature, and the world of culinary delight. I have blended decades of photography and food styling with a love of 17th-century Old Master paintings to create these still-life photographs. My greatest influences have been Francisco de Zurbarán’s mysterious use of dramatic light, Adriaen Coorte’s unique placement of treasured objects, and Giovanna Garzoni’s masterful composition and color palette. The works of these artists remind us of the irretrievable passing of time—tempus fugit.TMN:
Where do you shop for food and props?Paulette Tavormina:
I photograph all my images in New York City and buy the food props from farmers’ markets throughout the city. I am always searching for unusual, quirky shapes and textures in fruits and vegetables. Sometimes when I am looking for something special, like grapes with stems and leaves, I reach out to specific vendors and ask them to be on the lookout for me. They are only too happy to oblige! The flowers I use in my images are either from my apartment windowsill, purchased in the local flower market, or from friends who have gardens in the country, as with the tiny strawberries in Flowers and Fish III.
I have been collecting props over the years, and I am always on the lookout as I walk the New York streets and search for shells at the beach. Many of my butterflies and insects come from a wonderful taxidermy shop in Paris called Deyrolle. I collect old relics, whether it is broken Roman glass, cracked Delft bowls, or anything else I fall in love with—I have a very large collection of magical objects!TMN:
Describe a photo shoot.Paulette Tavormina:
It begins with an idea, sometimes inspired by a painting I have seen in a museum, book, or auction catalogue. I draw a sketch of how I would like it, then create it. On day one of the actual shooting process, I begin by setting up the surfaces and the non-perishable elements of the tableau. This helps me with the sense of scale and spatial separations. I visit the farmers’ market and the flower district to find the perfect produce. It can be an exhausting and expensive search.
Back at the studio, I begin inserting the produce on the set. Countless hours go into arranging all the elements, making sure that tendrils kiss other elements in a certain way and that there is a special placement of each element. I am constantly tweaking the composition, altering lighting, changing out the wilted leaves, adding fragile morning glories and butterflies—experimenting in a thousand little ways.
Usually, photographing a particular image can go on for a week. I know it is finished when I love it.TMN:
How is this different from photographing live subjects?Paulette Tavormina:
I suppose the difference is that I am not trying to record action (except in the “Flowers and Fish” series, where some of the fish are flying). Instead, I am telling a story.TMN:
What kind of processing do you do after the fact?Paulette Tavormina:
I do very little in the way of processing of the images. I crop them to my liking and highlight certain objects, then work with a wonderful photo lab for the printing.TMN:
What happens to all of this food when you’re done?Paulette Tavormina:
By the time I have finished shooting, the food has usually passed its prime, so it not possible to use it. But after photographing Strawberries, which I worked on during the weekend of July 4th, I made an old-fashioned strawberry short cake heaped with fresh whipped cream to celebrate the holiday. It was delicious!