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Issue No. 18 - Humanity

Book Review: Seizing Beauty by Paulette Tavormina

Book Review: Seizing Beauty by Paulette Tavormina

Image Above: ©Paulette Tavormina, 'Vanitas III The Letter,' After P.C. (2015) / Courtesy of the Monacelli Press

Paulette Tavormina’s photographs - beautifully collected and displayed in the volume Seizing Beauty - have the ability swallow you whole. They embrace the viewer in a dark, lush sense of nostalgia that is dually intimate and larger than life. This intimacy, mostly, exudes from the photographs’ subject matter: food, flora, fauna, and table settings evoke warm domesticity. The sense of grandeur comes from Tavormina’s style and influences: Old Master painters paintings These photographic twists are a thrill to get lost in.

Tavormina p.51
Tavormina p.51
Image Above: ©Paulette Tavormina, 'Flowers and Fish III,' After G.V.S. (2012) / Courtesy of The Monacelli Press

Each of the five sections of Seizing Beauty focuses on a particular still-life series. These sections range from Botanicals - crisp and quiet explosions of flowers, insects, shells, objects - to Vanitas, which are ornate and morose desk setups containing jewels, books, and skulls. Trompe l’oeil is pervasive in all of the series, and acts as an agent of unity throughout. Yet, unlike viewing an Old Master painting, the closer you get to the images, the realer they feel.

Tavormina p.145

Tavormina p.145

Image Above: ©Paulette Tavormina, 'Vanitas V Journeys,' After D.B. (2015)

What is fascinating about Tavormina’s work isn’t just what is present in the photographs, but what is absent. There are no human subjects in these photographs. Yet, there is evidence of human influence - peeled fruit, rumpled tablecloths, lit candles. Even the conscientiousness of the arrangements themselves is very distinctly human. They are organic in subject, but meticulous, even ritualistic in setup. The items in the photographs are offset by mostly dark, often pitch black backdrops. In Lemons and Pomegranates, the bright yellows and reds seem to be a sun emerging from the black background.

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Image Above: ©Paulette Tavormina, 'Lemon and Pomegranates,' after J.V.H. (2010) / Courtesy of The Monacelli Press

There is a life behind the objects that is worth noting; while vibrant, the foods and objects do not come across as hyper-perfect wax. This is a testament to Tavormina’s process. She collects her foods and objects from areas throughout New York City, including the Union Square Greenmarket. There is a poetry to selection that comes across in the photos. Everything is lovingly curated, and that love jumps off the page.

Text by Alexandra Glembocki
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