Driven by her interest in “control, accidents, and contrivance,” Laura Letinsky is best known for her exquisitely composed still life photographs, redolent with ambiguity. Keenly aware of the rich narrative possibilities inherent in still lifes and influenced by 17th-century Dutch still life painting, Letinsky crafts tabletop vignettes that suggest larger narratives, as she explains: “It’s this idea that the narrative has already occurred; the meal has been eaten, the cornucopia has been consumed, something has been consummated, and this is what’s left in the early morning light.”
Laura Letinsky’s lecture offers a glimpse into the world of her photography practice that felt foreign to those familiar only with her still-life imagery. Looking back at the work that she produced as part of her Master’s degree at Yale University —tender portraits about love and photography’s role in conveying ideas about romantic relationships —she highlights the important role that this series played in igniting her interest in intimacy and the home. Moving on to various still life images that date back to 1997, Letinsky’s interest in the modernization of Dutch still life painting can be seen as she arranges left over fruit, crumbled Coke cups, and styrofoam to-go cartons to allude to this intimate human presence while neglecting to include any subject in the frame. As she takes us through her practice, Letinsky’s lecture is punctuated with references to rich texts by feminist scholars such as Laura Mulvey, Audre Lorde and Susan Sontag, who speak about the relationship between the camera and the gaze, gender theory, and the politics of image making. There is a certain matter-of-fact-ness to the way Letinsky speaks about photography — “Peaches aren’t metaphors for anything; they are simply peaches, peach-shaped, peach-colored.” Her work is all about the line, shapes, and light interacting and how the viewer experiences the work. Photographs act as representations — “an image of a beautiful subject does not always result in a beautiful photograph”. Following the lecture, Letinsky meditates on the importance of how her work is presented and viewed. While she understands that, in the age of the internet, work is often viewed on a screen and out of context, she states that her work is perhaps best understood when viewed as a print. She goes on to critique photography’s tendency to assign value to large prints, and the gender-politics that devalue feminine work as fragile or uninteresting. “When I started printing my work in the ‘90s, bigger was better. Photographers I love, as well as ones I’m not as fond of, were making really big prints. They had to have these really big, film-like crews and lots of expensive equipment. It was all so macho. I wondered, Is this what it takes to make a good photograph? What about what’s already around? Can small things be great?”. There is no doubting that Letinsky’s commercial success has proven the aforementioned statement to be true, as the fragility of her images have made her one of the most influential still-life photographers of this generation.