Shot, for the most part, in black and white, Still Life follows Martin (Timothy Bonavita) whose search for perfection causes a crisis of passion. His love of photography is being jeopardized by his self perceived problems and each criticism only adds to his frustration.
Chris Esper, who wrote, produced and directed the film, gives us a flawed protagonist. Martin is torn between pride and uncertainty about his craft. At the start of the film he is photographing a solitary flower. He presents it in class for a critique but when Professor Lynch (David Graziano) suggests a different angle was needed Martin is exasperated.
It is a criticism that will crop up often and each time Martin reacts badly. One woman tells Martin he is talented but he needs to take criticism in the spirit it is given. Later the photographer revisits his first memory of taking pictures.
Esper chose black and white for his 12 minute drama. The medium beloved by most serious photographic artists. It works well. The starkness and lighting of the film help to convey Martin’s true feelings and his shaken confidence.
Interestingly, the director chooses colour for the memory sequence. Once again there is a reason. The young Martin is taking pictures with either a Polaroid or Kodak instant camera (where the photo ejects from the bottom and develops outside the device). The childhood memory is suffused with an orange tint.
Anyone who took pictures with either of those cameras will remember that often the finished photograph’s had an orange hue. This was a lovely touch.
The film shows just how easily passion can be deflated with a crisis of faith. Martin manages to rethink his personal issues and his childhood passion is rekindled with that memory.
Still Life also shows that art is subjective. One man’s prize may be another’s misstep. “You could have changed the angle” translates to “I would not have used that angle.” In some ways Martin’s annoyance at having this criticism voiced repeatedly is justified.
However like any true artist the photographer refuses to give up.
Bonavita manages to show clear delight when his character is praised for his work. He switches easily into a pouty sulk each time differing opinions are voiced. This works well as it shows his wavering confidence and frustration.
It does eventually serve to rejuvenate his attitude and he continues to practice his craft.
Still Life is a excellent offering that presents the side of artistic passion that is not all glowing praise and taking bows. It is also about ignoring the “negative” side of criticism and carrying on regardless.