THE first flash of feeling resolves into serenity itself. But there is more. The graceful arrangement of objects - a very old armoire, a very new frosted-glass vase, and even newer daisies - intrigues the imagination. The richness of gold-on-gold and green-on-green (the colors of sunlight and verdure) soothes and delights. And the light pouring in an open window sculpts form, dazzles the eye, dramatizes the modest articles as if they were the most precious things Earth holds. Photographer Melanie Stetson
Freeman's "Still Life" was taken in her own home as the unplanned arrangement caught her eye. But the picture manages, nevertheless, to call upon the old metaphor - the still life as celebration of the fragile moment - fixing it outside of time.
Ms. Freeman's armoire is 18th-century. Its gracious old age makes itself felt and contributes metaphorical weight to the simple scene; its coarse gold-within-green surface contrasts nicely with the silken form and surface texture of the glass. The "live" part of the "still life," the daisies, pulls the eye up from the bowed center form, the vase, to the light. Freeman appreciates the beauty of window light, always preferring natural light to flash. It's true that window light as she captures it is painte rly: The forms seem to emerge out of light, color, and mass.
The photograph unpretentiously resembles painting in its simplicity and elegance.
The still life sprang into its own as a painting genre in post-Reformation Netherlands in the 17th century. The genre lingered at the bottom of the painting hierarchy in most European countries except in the Netherlands, where Dutch masters achieved a nearly perfect realism and a chronic fascination with flowers in vases, luxurious dinnerware, and the pleasures of the table.
In many of these paintings, the artist reminded the viewer of the fleeting nature of sensuous pleasures. At the same time they celebrated the moment, fixing it in paint and conferring a sense of immortality on it. Very often, the still life was illuminated by a shaft of window light that appeared to help define the forms.
Today, there are paintings that look eerily like giant photographs (photorealism), and fine-art photography that sometimes aspires to the look of Old Masters paintings. Realism is as much in the eye of the beholder as beauty. In Freeman's "Still Life," she caught a moment she did not plan, but saw and fixed - a moment of simple beauty and serenity only a photograph could capture so naturally today.