The Last Portrait: A microscopic view of transience, mourning and loss (2017)

Lucy Willow

About this exposition

In 2009, I began a photographic series of work titled Memento Mori (remember that you are mortal and will die) based on the melancholic symbolism of 17th Century Dutch Vanitas paintings. Appropriating the symbolic language found in these paintings, I was looking to draw attention to the parallel beauty found in both life and death. The images contained rotting fruit, decaying animals, bubbles, extinguished candles and jewellery to serve as a reminder of the transience of everything in life. The paintings held, within them, an understanding of a narrative from 17th Century culture, which warns against the vanities and temptations in life such as wealth, knowledge, lust and earthly pleasure. The narrative emphasises how we ought not to be distracted by these, but remain focussed on the spiritual, the afterlife. I borrowed the symbolism in order to examine mortality. In the reflection of a sad and moth-eaten taxidermied magpie I saw my own grief, resting between its tatty feathers as I photographed its stuffed corpse. I bought a lambs heart and placed it in the centre of a still life, to signify young loss, vulnerability and sadness. I hid any outward signs of mourning amongst a symbolic visual language that found its expression in the photograph. What else could I do? Working into the surface of the photograph with water, I was able to bleed and merge the colours, giving the surface a visceral, opulent quality that made the image feel as though it was disappearing and rotting in the presence of the viewer. The colour was an externalization of what was happening, on the inside: the feeling of dissolving. I was looking to understand death through the arrangements of objects I assembled and photographed. An event, once photographed, becomes more real. I photographed death, drawing it close, feeling its omnipresence intimately in the midst of life. A photograph confirms reality. The scythe of death cuts through all the unnecessary in life, bringing us to stillness at the core of our being, where nothing else exists but a silent longing for the peace it brings.
typeresearch exposition
keywordsmourning, transience, memento mori, grief, post mortum photogrpahy, death
last modified02/03/2017
share statusprivate
licenseAll rights reserved
published inResearch Catalogue
external linkhttp://www.cambridgescholars.com/malady-and-mortality

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