Roger Fenton (British, 18191869)
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 13 7/8 x 16 15/16 in. (35.2 x 43.1 cm)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005 (2005.100.15)
As the appointed photographer of the British Museum from 1854 to 1859, Fenton had ample opportunity to develop his skills photographing stationary objects of various sizes and materials, from antique busts to skeletons of animals and birds. In 1860, he embarked on a series of about forty still lifes of fruits and flowers arranged on marble or fabric. The presence of the same fruits in more than one image suggests that the studies were made during a relatively short period of time. In the best examples, flowers and fruit are grouped together in tight compositions, either in casual heaps or as a wall of berries and petals. Here, photographing at close range and at eye level, Fenton conceived of his subject as a study in textures, piling detail upon detail and heightening its tactile diversity: the prickly scales of the pineapple, the pocked skin of the strawberry, the delicate transparency of the white currant, the heaviness of the black grapes. The abundance of sensory information in the compressed photographic space attracts and disturbs at the same time, injecting a disquieting and characteristically Victorian horror vacui into a centuries-old theme.
These overabundant, almost overripe, still lifes of objets d'art, flowers, and exotic fruits were also clearly meant to accomplish the same goal that Fenton had sought from the beginning: to demonstrate the capacity of photography to equaland even surpasspainting in its many traditional roles.