The subtle Boundaries between Photography and Painting
Christopher Broadbent is photographer whose still life work melts boundaries between photography and painting. Inspired by 17th and 18th century Renaissance paintings of natura morta, Broadbent presents poetic, silent images that investigate moments of intimate and temporal suspension. The flowers, fruits, everyday objects and cooking utensils featured in his pictures, are often transformed into still life compositions that reference a traditional, classic genre of painting, while emphasizing the transient beauty of life.
From Advertising and Commercial work to Intimate Still Lifes
Although his main subject of photography is still life, Broadbent has had a previously long lasting photographic career that focused on other areas of the medium. Born in 1936 in London, he studied photography and cinematography at the Institut Des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques in Paris. He then worked in filmography for ten years, shooting documentaries in Rome, before transitioning into the field of photography. Broadbent became widely known with his commercial and advertising work throughout the years, but it was much later in life, during the early 2000s in fact, that he started focusing on a more intimate dimension of the medium: still life.
Floating in Time
The still life compositions of Christopher Broadbent not only display a studied analytical realism, but also appear to be floating in time, as if suspended. The element of suspension is so dominant, that the viewer is almost waiting for an event to occur for the sake of closure, or to be able to move away from the very image, onto the next. Such feeling of not belonging to a single moment, the in-betweenness creates tension, while extending the idea of time. The stillness of the props and elements within the composition, which, Broadbent meticulously orchestrates, becomes great forces of abstraction.
Synthesis though Analysis
In his photograph, Dry Flowers and Background, for example, the flower petals do not appear to be falling, but suggest the idea that they have once fallen, setting aside and slowing down the notion of time while drawing attention to the composition itself. For one of Broadbent’s past exhibitions titled Left in Shadows, Elena Pontiggia once wrote;
“…In fact, Broadbent masterfully brings together the design of the multiple in unity. Few authors know how to achieve a synthesis through analysis like him, that is, they know how to create works in which all the objects, with their numerous details, are composed in such a musical balance as to seem like a single thing.”
Suspended Abstraction through Light and Structure
Christopher Broadbent achieves the idea of suspended abstraction through a humble, spiritual yet forceful use of light and structure. His compositions are almost always centrally staged, with space around the arrangement (which becomes the subject), allowing the it to breathe in the photograph. Although there are numerous elements that Broadbent uses to put together his compositions, the colors never seem dazzling, but rather muted, discreet. The order of elements appears to be random, yet lighting is always carefully studied. His source of light is single: natural light coming in through his studio window, illuminating the frame from the left side. Natural light gives the image its romantic, painterly and spiritual essence. The play between light and shadow, on the other hand, introduces depth and a sense of three dimensionality, with a hint of chiaroscuro, Broadbent’s subtle nod to his main inspiration, 17th century Renaissance painting.
If there is a painter who’s work comes to mind in referencing the work of Christopher Broadbent it would be Giorgio Morandi. They both reside (or resided) in Milan and the cool light of the city is present in their work. They both worked within a self-imposed range of objects and chosen elements. They purposely created variations on themes that absorbed their particular interests. There is an expressive power and weight, as well as a disarming simplicity in the objects that both artists used in their compositions. Their respective works have a formal elegance giving a quiet but penetrating power and presence to their work. Their palettes are purposely subdued and subtle which has the effect of flattening space and unifying the imager plane. Morandi’s painting present brushstrokes that build the surface as opposed to a camera that records actual light and forms to give us a simulacrum of nature that, in Broadbent’s case, has an emotional depth, and a presence of mood. Ultimately they suggest the passage of time as well as the persistence of beauty.
Life in Milan
Christopher Broadbent currently lives and works in Milan, and Vernate, Switzerland, most recently exhibiting at Locandina Senigallia 2021-22, “Rimasto nell’Ombra” 2022 Palazzo Baviera, Senigallia, and “What’s Left” 2021 Palazzo Parasi, Cannobio. He has won numerous awards both in Italy and in the United States for his photographic work and legacy.