The Daily Eye:
Photographer Steve Pyke
Discusses his Approach
to his Still Life Images:
Part One

My life in photography happened by accident and I fell in love with it immediately. I have listened to other photographers and heard this story many times. The beautiful surprise it gives is the constant opportunity for self-expression. Photography helps me to make more sense of the world we live in.

From early on I have been seen as a portrait photographer, yet I have always worked on landscape, street photography and still life. I photograph what I see and refuse to be bracketed or pigeonholed in one field. The still lives started early in my career.

I photographed found objects, natural forms and always signage and graffiti, always photographing by available light. I realised, making still lives, that to isolate a subject from the environment on a stark white or a black background allows us to look at that subject in a different way…it allows us sometimes to see the extraordinary ordinariness of things and it also adds elements of the abstract and surreal.

The first series of still lives were just that. Anybody that sees road kill as it is there on the horizon and then passes in the car has to look, even if fleetingly, and then maybe they recoil. But there is something inside us that makes us look. So I decided to really look, to stare into the wound and to record it as simply as I could, the lighting available, where they lay. I would carry a large white background paper and place the kill on the sheet, taking it outside of its environment and photographing it with my Rollei from both sides… a diptych.

Hedgehog #1


The first ,’Hedgehog #1, #2′, seemed so graphic, beautiful in its decay and imperfections. It has became a study of the impact of the car on our environment. The series is also one of a number that do not end, they are continually added to.

‘Soles’ I began in 1984. I realised that the act of walking had become a meditative process for me, a place I could go to and not be disturbed. A place I could think, turn things over, and move on. One foot in front of another. I began to look at the soles of my shoes. How over the years I had worn them out. Isolating the soles on a white background, the large-format negative captures all the detail and textures.

The patina created by my walking on those soles seems to me to reflect the change over years that time and living have on the lines of my face. They have become self-portraits. There are now over 75 in this collection and I intend  to show these as an installation ’25 Years of Walking’.

‘Garden Tools’ were photographed at Great Dixter Gardens in East Sussex. They too share a fascination with the way things wear, how over time and use, everything becomes somehow ‘rounder’. Some of these tools had created the garden in 1910 and the handles and prongs were beautifully worn. These were lit but very simply – two soft boxes and a time exposure flattened them out against the background while leaving incredible detail.

Of all the still lives, probably the series I found most compelling was ‘Post Partum, Post Mortem’  (Nazraeli Press 2006). This is a study of the tools of labour, a celebration of the beauty and attraction of the working tool. There is a minimalism to these tools, a stark symmetry that is appealing to the senses. I was invited by Guy’s Hospital in London to photograph the tools used during an autopsy and called the photographs ‘Post Mortem’. It became clear that to photograph the tools used for birth would pose interesting comparisons.

‘Post Partum’ were photographed at CHONY in New York. The birth process and the death process are two of the most unchanging acts of physical labour. Medicine is now so technologically advanced yet still we use medieval tools. The use of those tools in birth and death are an attempt to control and categorize two events that are raw and unobtainable.

So much of what we see in the workplace today is about distancing us from the object of our labours. With these tools there is an intense physical engagement with the object.

All of these photographs in my personal series have been made over are a long period, almost 25 years now. They include the various still lives groups, a series of my sons Jack and Duncan, which detail the development of the human face, ‘Uniforms’ a survey of European youth identity and the ‘Philosophers’ of our time.

Judith Thompson, Boston MA, April 14, 2010 by Steve Pyke


There is no rush to complete these projects and so you live with them, they become part of your thinking process, the work moves in a different time and space. They have time to mature and like all things that last over time they mean different things to you at different places in time.

Ultimately I believe photography has to deal with our own mortality. As soon as we press the shutter, the image becomes a part of our past. When you make a photograph whether it is a portrait or a still life, the end result becomes a symbol of what you saw, it is no longer the object you had attempted to represent. It has become a means created to extend our ways of seeing in our search for ‘truth’.

Born in England in 1957, Steve Pyke lives and works in NewYork City. In 2004 Pyke received the MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list for his services to the arts. In 2006 he was made a Friend of the Royal Photographic Society. He has worked at The New Yorker since 1995, has exhibited worldwide and his work is held in permanent collections including the National Portrait Gallery in both Washington, DC and London; Imperial War Museum in London and the NewYork Public Library.

Steve Pyke ‘Philosophers’
7 September – 1 October 2011
21 Cork Street London
W1S 3LZ +44 (0)20 7439 7766