Four women, four still lifes


Jo Whaley, Smerinthus saliceti, c1990

In the 1980s, it seemed that the still life genre had become the domain of women photographers such was the frequency and quality of their work. Artists such as Jan Groover had long careers carving out new subject matter and aesthetic strategies for the worn out genre.

Here are four still life photographers who flourished during and since the 1980s and whose styles have notable similarities. In these four typical examples their approach is the same, using 19th century family portraits and arranging props on them to create some resonance.

The strategy owes something to Surrealism, for example Max Ernst’s collages, but the exact meaning is hard to pin down. Since even Olivia Parker could not say what her pictures were about, I won’t try, and you speculate as you wish. But each arrangement seems fitting, coherent with its own miniature terms, a micro world of once living people, alive again briefly while you look at their faces.


Olivia Parker, Child 1980


Rosamund Wolff Purcell, Iris, 1980


Maggie Taylor, The Collector, 2009


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