TIME In Progress

Grant Cornett’s Beautiful Decay

New York based photographer Grant Cornett doesn't fancy himself a storyteller. His vibrant still lifes tell stories of their own.

New York based photographer Grant Cornett doesn’t fancy himself a storyteller. Rather, when describing his arresting still lifes of perishables past their prime, he says that “the objects I use are just shapes and colors that somehow make me feel something.” Cornett started collecting food from commercial still life jobs and from around his own kitchen. “I’d hold on to items for extended periods of time, and [so] I started learning how different foods would dry out. This led to an image of a lemon that had an interesting shape—I experimented and dyed it different colors. For me, food is a pliable object and really, this is a series of graphic studies.”

In this way Cornett’s work recalls the paintings and collage of Joan Miró. A circle, a line, the right color of blue balanced by an orange circle, all come together to make the eye dance. Miro also attached bones and bits of string to some of his collages to expand the language of painting. Cornett takes this classic surrealist sensibility and filters it through the history of still life photography. A tradition that tends to idealize food’s beauty, and where it’s rare to see fruit portrayed once it starts to spoil.

Looking at these harshly lit unforgiving pictures of moldy oranges and bone marrow could make the viewer nauseous or uncomfortable, but Cornett’s compositions exhibit such a satisfying arrangement of color and form that they transcend their decaying subject matter. When describing his experience in the studio, Cornett says “I’m just trying to enjoy myself, and make myself smile.”

Cornett photographed Jack White for a recent story in the May 9th issue of TIME.

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