Kitchen table pictures

I think it was Adlai Stevenson who said ‘You know, you really can’t beat a household commodity – the ketchup bottle on the kitchen table’. There is a genre of indoor photography that I call kitchen table photography, although often, kitchen tables do not feature …

Ketchup on the table, gumboots at the ready, potted plants on the window sill, as in this James Ravilious picture, where the combination of objects somehow pull together to portray a domestic and social situation.

Cottage Kitchen in sunlight, Mariansleigh, 1985, James Ravilious, © Beaford Archive

Or take Andrew Sanderson’s ‘Ollie at the Window’, a copy of which hangs in my studio, where it’s less about the objects, Ollie notwithstanding, and more about the way in which light reflects off them (the wooden surfaces).

Olie at the window, © Andrew Sanderson

Or this by Kertész, which seems to ape the geometrical precision of a Piat Mondrian abstract:

Chez Mondrian, André Kertész

In the Ravilious we have a social document; in the Sandserson, an eye to the behaviour of reflected light; in the Kertész, a regard for form – three very different types of kitchen table picture, but nevertheless of a type.

As I said, kitchen tables need not appear in ‘kitchen table photography’, for of course the ‘kitchen table’ stands for a type of picture which invites us to engage in a certain way.

For un-peopled interiors, we can muse about how the inhabitants of these spaces look, their dress, manner, age, interests and so on. We try to learn something about them from their absence. We glean the pictures for clues. A Sun newspaper speaks out in the Ravilious picture; an absence of adornment in the Sanderson, a well-kept straw hat in the Kertész.

Peopling these interiors changes the engagement. We have both sides of the equation, person and objects, and we now try to reconcile them, make sense of their co-existence. The pile of ash-trays, the plate depicting an 18th century game of bowls, the knee-creased trousers against the ‘far-away’ look:

Mr Jackson 1974 © John Myers

In this Myers picture, there is little reconciliation to be done. Person and objects seem so well suited.

Of course, we do not want to be told any answers. We want them to remain in a kind of limbo state, something between the real things they depict and an imaginary one that we can inhabit if we wish to engage in this way.

This game is not like a crossword puzzle which, when solved, we throw away, as if spent, redundant and surplus to need. We want to continue to muse about pictures, be gently provoked by them.

For pictures help us to understand the world, not by supplying answers but by providing a set of constraints that lead us through a train of thoughts. They seem to lead us from thinking about the general to being attentive to the particular and then back again to the general, the realm of concepts. Perhaps this activity is prevalent across all artistic endeavours and was crucial to how our minds evolved – today’s cave paintings?

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    […] bit of time later, release me back out . A few months ago I wrote a post about what I called ‘kitchen table pictures‘ and this photograph is a good example of the type that I was referring […]

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