The earliest photographs were very often still lives; a collection of objects brought together and artfully arranged. In the eyes of the photographers this helped legitimise the new process as an art form, harking back to a traditional genre in fine art. More practically it was an easy subject to take photographs of in an era of bulky photographic apparatus and a requirement for long exposures.
The subject matter tended to be what was easily available. William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of one of the early photographic processes, took pictures of objects he found around his home at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.
Still life photography can be used give the objects depicted greater meaning – to represent something beyond what we can see; or it can offer an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the subject itself, especially if it is something mundane and often overlooked.
Recently I have taken some photographs of old bike parts I found lying around at home. The parts have been acquired over several years, no doubt as part of some “project” that was never quite started. Photographing gave me an opportunity to reflect on each of them and to consider their past. Here are some of those thoughts.
It’s the first push of the pedal that does it. Now you’re setting off along the road and it could take you anywhere.
Looking at this pedal I could imagine the foot that would have pressed down on it starting off on their own journeys; from the mundane to the epic. How many revolutions has it made; pushed down on and pulled up over and over again? What road surfaces did it spin a few inches above? Were they smooth tarmac or dusty tracks?
It looks well worn with plenty of marks, perhaps grit thrown up from the road, or perhaps where the bike was propped against or wall or even fallen over.
The other prominent feature (for a cycle geek like me) is that cap on the end; it unscrews and you could get inside to replace and regrease the bearings. I wonder how many times it was taken part; are the bearings inside the same as the ones when it was first manufactured?
This rather eleagant piece of engineering has a brutal function; to literally derail the chain from one sprocket on the freewheel and land it on another. This one is a Shimano 600 Arabesque, probably made sometime in the early 1980s. How many times was this rear derailleur shifted back and forth and what purpose? Into the smallest sprocket to find that extra gear and push the bike on further and faster; or into the largest one to spin more easily when climbing that hill or at the end of a long and wearying ride?
These brake blocks look well worn – they also look like they were out of alignment a little bit; the middle has worn more than the edges. What speeds did they have to control? What swoops and turns? What were those descents like? Was the road long and straight so the brakes were barely needed, or did it switch and turn with frequent touches of the brakes into each corner? Were the brakes ever called on to stop the bike suddenly and how well did they do it? (some bicycle brakes, especially older ones, were never very reliable!)
Each of the photographs above are available as limited edition prints from my store on nuMonday. All prints are A4 size on Hahnemühle Photo Lustre 260gsm paper and mounted on a white A3 board with a black bevelled edge to show the image off. It comes in a protective cellophane sleeve. Click on the links below to find out more about each print and how you can purchase them. For a short period you can buy the prints for just £20 each.