A couple of months ago, I ran some images by a young Dutch photographer, Maurice van Es. I described these images as a kind of new “still life.” Today I’d like to introduce the work of Nico Krijno, a South African photographer whose work could also be described in this way. I’m sure that at first glance, some readers may wonder, “how is this any different from what van Es is doing?” or “why is this kind of photography important anyway, when it’s just a bunch of stuff thrown around the frame?” I’m not sure that I can answer these questions definitively, but I hope to clear up them up. It’s clear enough that Krijno’s images are aesthetically pleasing, but what else? Let’s dig in and see!
First of all, let’s look at van Es and Krijno together. It’s true that they share a similar visual language, but it’s not too hard to draw some distinctions between them. In the first place, van Es is quite obviously concerned with his personal life. More than a couple of his series show his family members directly, and one in particular shows (in a quite direct way) the piles of things his mother leaves around the house. Krijno is not uninterested in exploring his personal life, but he’s a lot more abstract in the way that he goes about it; his girlfriend sometimes appears in his work, but there’s no one series that focuses exclusively on her. While Van Es isolates objects in the flow of his daily life, Krijno’s photographs are a lot more constructed—just take a look at this photo of an elaborate gold tin foil structure. The title of this image, “The Old Pope,” shows another distinguishing feature of Krijno’s work, namely his sense of humor.
The Old Pope
So it should be clear enough that Krijno and van Es are not just copies of each other. But why is this kind of still life work so popular these days? It’s not just these two but indeed many others, who are producing these abstract photographs.
I could think of a couple of different reasons. In the first place, there’s the increasing ease (whether perceived or real, but let’s leave that) of creating high quality photographs. Young photographers can hang their hat, so to speak, on the relative technical skill required to produce a good still life. At the same time, the still life is also (conveniently enough) a genre with a long tradition in the history of art, and photographers can use this to position their work within a broader field. Still, the usage of intentionally bad objects (“useless,” as Krijno calls them) makes it possible for the photographers to create a kind of nostalgic connection with their audience. (Another still life photographer, David Brandon Geeting, has taken an image of a BIC lighter, which I’m sure will have some connotations for many Americans.) So, while this work is able to reference classical art—and Krijno is doing exactly this in his “Venus” photographs—it’s also not difficult to grasp.
It’s surprising to think that still life photography has come back so strongly in just the past few years, but perhaps because of the double burst of nostalgia that arises from reviving a properly “old” form through the use of more recently discarded or forgotten objects. Needless to say, I’m curious to see what will emerge in the coming months and years.
Untitled, From the series “Dimension Variables”