Jeanette May » Portfolio

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As widely observed, we live in an age filled with devices that make domestic life faster, smarter, easier, and more complicated. Consumers may choose from an astounding number of tech products. Items fill our shopping carts and our homes. The more we yearn to keep current—the newest phone, computer, camera, audio system, espresso maker—the more we produce, consume, and discard. Cutting-edge technology becomes outdated, embarrassing, quaint, collectible, and finally, antiquated or forgotten. Jeanette May's Tech Vanitas photographs confront the anxiety surrounding technological obsolescence.

The original vanitas paintings celebrated the new wealth of The Netherlands in the 17th Century. Their still lifes recorded the affluence of finely crafted domestic merchandise: silk, porcelain, Venetian glass, silver goblets, and cultivated flowers. By including skulls and references to time, vanitas paintings also signified the inevitability of death. Contemporary still lifes exist in the form of advertising imagery; the newest gadget is carefully styled and photographed to convince potential owners of technological ascension. Perhaps more than death, we fear becoming Luddites.

Just as the Dutch Golden Age still lifes portray the abundance afforded a prosperous culture, Tech Vanitas embraces luxury, honors design, and acknowledges the fleeting nature of earthly pleasures. These contemporary vanitas still lifes utilize digital photography to capture precarious arrangements of domestic technological ephemera: a coffee percolator and film camera teeter atop a shiny boombox that spews magnetic tape across the keys of an Underwood typewriter. May’s photographs utilize anachronistic technologies to confront still life’s traditional tension between temptation and rejection of worldly goods. 

The photographs in this series are captured digitally and presented as archival pigment prints in editions of 10. Print sizes include 24 x 36” and 16 x 24”. 


Designed to be murdered by your dog or cat, pet toys appear as dead bodies in these crime scene photographs. Morbidity & Mortality responds to the current popular fascination with cinematic murder and forensics. Contemporary films and CSI-style television programs reveal an obsession with corpses—specifically, artfully composed images of the deceased. While death and Memento Mori are perennial motifs in art, contemporary US culture is particularly awash in carefully arranged and creatively “off’d” stiffs. The artist examining this trend faces the challenge of depicting, yet not reproducing, this fetishized violence. In these staged photographs of recently discovered victims, the body is that of a “dead” pet toy: the small furry object lying on the floor, for example, is a dismembered bird’s head. There is a perverse quality to toys that resemble real animals—already deceased or clearly marked for death. Morbidity & Mortality critiques contemporary tableaus of aestheticized violence by presenting photographs that are simultaneously disturbing and whimsical.

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