The Workshop as Still Life

Workshop Still Life 2 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Workshop Still Life 1 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Workshop Still Life 3 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Workshop Still Life 2 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Workshop Still Life 4 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Workshop Still Life 3 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Workshop Still Life 5 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Workshop Still Life 4 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

Workshop Still Life 5 - Steve Middlehurst 2016

Workshop Still Life 5 – Steve Middlehurst 2016

At the end of my essay on Scott McFarland’s studies of shacks (here) I remarked that the shack, cabin, shed or workshop has been mythologised in recent times, with a changing contemporary nomenclature that has reclassified them as man-caves, hideaways and rustic retreats; a strange shift in perception that romanticises humble and functional architecture projecting it as a desirable accessory within contemporary lifestyles.

My perspective is of working spaces, examples of industry within the landscape regardless of whether it is a gardener’s potting shed or an artisan’s factory. As such these spaces represent not just the activities that currently take place within them but the personality of their inhabitants and, nearly regardless of their age, they become the repository of discarded projects, redundant equipment, off-cuts and kept items, “it will come in handy even if I never use it”, abandoned futures and evidence of the current inhabitant’s and the building’s history. A rough, unpolished place where an artisan works with his hands to create a tangible product. The space is full of strange and familiar equipment which is somehow pertinent to a arcane processes.

These small workshops are magical places where unexplained objects collect dust for years neither revealing their original purpose nor hinting at their future. My own workshop is full of such objects, some inherited from my father’s workshop, some found in junk shops or in sheds and garages acquired when buying houses. The farms I visit all include sheds or parts of barns where pieces of machinery have been carefully stored, sometimes for decades, waiting to be reborn or just left to rust. Each piece has a history that we might never know, no one recalls placing them there or knows who tied that rope over the beam or when or why but over time each piece of now redundant material settles into the dust and debris to become a dormant part of the building itself.

They feel like archeology in the making waiting for the structure to collapse around them and the earth to drift over before being found and dusted down in another millennium to puzzle their finder and to be explained with that default designation of having  “an unknown ritual purpose”.

This exercise (5.1) was an opportunity to test out some ideas that may prove relevant to assignment 5. These still lifes are my equivalent of Nigel Shafran’s washing up (see here); an arrangement of mundane items constructed to maximise the storage space or to be on hand when needed in uncoordinated and often unintentional sculptures, three dimensional patterns of shape and colour. Even when looking at my own space I am taken by the fact that every item has been consciously placed yet the grouping and positioning appears random and chaotic. Every item has its own little history, has played a part in some long forgotten project or awaits its moment to become useful.

The pictures are quite formally constructed, using a DLSR and tripod; #5 is a long exposure using ambient light. #1 and #2 mix ambient with flash, whilst #3 and #4 are flash.

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This entry was posted in 1 - Absence and Signs of Life, Exercises and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Workshop as Still Life

  1. Catherine says:

    So tidy – nothing out of place.You’ve referred to the history of the objects and how you came about them, maybe you could create a series where some of them tell their story.

  2. Thanks Catherine – tidy but very dusty!

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