Jeanette May is a photo-based artist using a critical, sometimes playful, approach to investigate representation. Early training as a painter is evident in her carefully arranged compositions and rich color palette. May’s photographs are constructed, staged, lit, and carefully considered. Her recent still life projects embrace technology, design, and obsolescence. May received her MFA in Photography from CalArts and her BFA in Painting from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has been awarded grants, fellowships, and residencies from the NEA Regional Artists’ Projects Fund, Brooklyn Arts Council, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Illinois Arts Council, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, and Ms. Foundation. Her work is exhibited in galleries and museums internationally, including New York City, Washington, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Milan, Athens, Barcelona, and Shanghai. May lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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 Cutting-edge technology becomes outdated, embarrassing, quaint, collectible, and finally, antiquated or forgotten.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 embrace 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 utilize digital photography to capture precarious arrangements of consumer 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 images of anachronistic technologies confront still life’s traditional tension between temptation and rejection of worldly goods
Release Date: September 9, 2022
Still Life with Spy Camera continues the exploration of beautifully designed vintage technology begun in my Tech Vanitas series. Surrounded by rich silks and damask wall covering, arrangements of domestic technology once again suggest 17th Century Dutch vanitas still life paintings. My photographs display a reverence for finely crafted merchandise, industrial design, and scientific wonders. The devices span vintage clocks and landline phones to electronic adaptors. Each object’s style, color, and material construction epitomize a period of both aesthetic and technological advancement. What becomes of the beloved tech that stops working or can’t be updated? My still lifes examine the present and the past of technology without easy answers but rather, like the Dutch vanitas, with a sense of wonder and trepidation.
Still Life with Spy Camera, 2022
Release Date: February 24, 2023
Still Life with Clock Radio playfully winks at 17th Century Dutch vanitas paintings. My background in painting and photography inspired an interest in still lifes and a working method of staged scenes. I began photographing vintage technology out of concern for recycling, waste, and designed obsolescence. My still life photographs also reveal a fascination with industrial design, scientific ingenuity, and flea markets. I borrow, rent, and occasionally purchase the props. They span decades from vintage film cameras to electric candles. All of my still lifes examine the present and the past of technology without easy answers but rather, like the Dutch vanitas, with a sense of wonder and trepidation.
Still Life with Clock Radio, 2022