For my latest series, I composed images in the studio that reference the poetic still life paintings of the 16th century. In order to do the references justice, I needed a camera with exceptional detail and resolution - and the FUJIFILM GFX 50S delivered.
The first thing that many will notice about this camera is its compact size and weight. I travel often, and always have an abundance of props in tow - which means that I don't like to carry a lot of gear and equipment. The camera is appealing for its portability and convenience while traveling and on location. The design of the camera is also ergonomically superior for shooting handheld than other medium format digital cameras on the market.
The GFX has a number of practical functions that streamline and improve workflow while photographing in a variety of scenarios. Initially, the sheer number of features was overwhelming - but I quickly familiarized myself with the menu (a small but manageable learning curve as I was previously a Canon user). I realized just how customizable the camera is to allow for individual programming. It features a robust and fast processor, and I was pleasantly surprised at how simple it was to work with.
The resolution and accuracy of the display coupled with the touch screen feature was wonderful. I was able to zoom in, pick any focus point and scan around the image in meticulous detail without having to be hooked up to a computer screen, and with the confidence that I knew exactly what I was capturing. Fujifilm has also added a number of small, helpful features that just make life easier, like the in-display level, the manual focus assist highlighter, which outlines what is in focus on the live display, and aspect ratio selection in camera which was very helpful for composing the frame without any guess work. The screen also swivels for easier viewing. You have the ability to plug the camera directly into a power outlet while shooting for many hours in the studio without having to worry about batteries.
The Velvia film simulation mode provided the color palette, mood, tonality and depth in the shadows that were necessary to infuse the still life images with a texture more like painting than photography, right out of the camera. I was very impressed by the tonal range, fine detail, and the information retained in the shadows and highlights. The files feel almost organic, much more akin to film. The effect is so striking that at first glance a viewer might question whether they are really looking at a digital image or a painted one. This makes the image feel more poetic than technical, and helps transport the viewer.
The free Fujifilm Camera Remote iPhone app preview is a game changer in streamlining workflow. In this instance, I was able to make styling adjustments to the set smoothly as I could view the shot from camera angle without actually having to be at camera angle. I made accurate adjustments without going back and forth a million times. This is just one efficiency gain of many that will be invaluable in so many circumstances for any photographer - from self-portraiture artists to those working commercially.
While all of these features are helpful on set and simplify the work process, the most important advantage to the GFX is the final result it delivers: beautiful, rich, high quality detailed files that will produce atmospheric large-scale gallery prints that engage with viewers on more than a technical level. The GFX delivered on all points.
Memento mori, a Latin expression, is a reminder of the inevitability of death, a reminder that is at the heart of the still life painting tradition. Still life, literally “dead nature” in French, is rooted in the Middle Ages and ancient Greco-Roman art. Sixteenth and seventeenth century still life painters in the Vanitas tradition communicated the impermanence of life through canvas. These visual feasts were infused with potent symbolism that spoke of the brevity of life and profound futility of earthly existence. Skulls, pocket-watches, and the dripping wax of waning candles reminded viewers that time on earth is ephemeral. Rotting foods and other fading sensory delights carried a moral message about the short-lived nature of pleasure. Objects from the natural world were leveraged to convey different messages – the butterfly, transformation, the ant, hard work. At a time when exploration was driving the fetishization of the exotic, still lives elevated the everyday and the ordinary.
The realities of our digital world have made the core message embedded in the still life more relevant than ever. This series of still life imagery follows in the footsteps of the masters of the Baroque period, harnessing the symbolism of objects to illustrate the fleeting quality of time and the transience of life. These compositions focus on light, color, texture, and atmosphere, and are a stark contrast to the saturated, high-volume of our fast-paced modern life. Viewers are invited to meditate on the dignity, beauty, and purpose in each object, all of which evoke one essential point. This too shall pass. The still life captures what is constant in the natural world, including the inevitable truth of our impermanence. The images in our virtual lives reflect the cult of ‘the moment’ – where sensory pleasures are captured, elevated, and shared at a dizzying rate. This onslaught can cause us to conflate ubiquity with importance, as we share in the cult of the fleeting that has made its house of worship on social media networks.
These still life images aim not to grab your attention, but hold your attention. In the age of distraction, they allow us to focus on what is essential. They are a reminder that we are ships passing in the night, and must mindfully choose how we devote our brief and precious time on earth.
Claire Rosen is an award-winning artist whose transportive imagery uses universal themes of dreams, fairy tales and mythology to visually symbolize the many facets of the human condition. Her elaborate tableaux constructions often feature anthropomorphic animals or solitary heroines, evoking the aesthetics and ideals of classical painting from the Pre-Raphaelite, Romantic, and Gothic periods. The whimsical images explore concepts of nostalgia, memory, femininity and depictions of the self, frequently referencing the Victorian Era with its fascination of the natural world and ideals of beauty.