Canadian photographer Letinsky’s still lifes resemble the aftermath of a restaurant table, fruit peelings and dirty crockery arranged in an apparently haphazard but actually carefully placed layout.
Why would Letinsky apply all the meticulous control over lighting, perspective and placement as for any normal still life in order to recreate a ‘pile of washing up’?
It could be as simple as Keith Arnatt’s Rubbish Tip, or Tillmans’ exploration of the aesthetic beauty in discarded items. But that would not be consistent with her careful placement of items with all the attention to detail of a normal still life study.
I find that I admire her work a lot, noting how it is “a vehicle to explore the tension between the small and minute and larger social structures“.
Although carefully placed and so storytelling rather than historical in nature, I feel like a historian gazing over a map of a battlefield when I view it. Where was the power around the dinner table? Did the meal end amicably or with someone getting up to leave? Were passions high or convivial? A landmark birthday or celebration? The detritus on the table resembles the fallen soldiers on the battlefield, the dirty plates their bombed-out garrisons and hides. I often perceive elements of our human condition and relationships in her images, all backed by crisp white linen.
Letinsky talks about how “photography conflicts with and constrains our sense of our environment by reinforcing certain ideas we have about perception.” I’m not confident that I fully understand her point here, but it could be a reference to how we take and consume photographs, reinforcing these perceptions unconsciously as we go in order to make thing fit our model of the world. The plain white tablecloths may well invite us to view the images – and the human behaviours they represent – with a fresh backdrop, not influenced by our prejudices and past experiences.