I am very much attracted to mundane objects and, for example, started the still life project by photographing items of office stationery. Although that evolved into more traditional still life compositions I was looking for a subject that could encompass more of my interests in the mundane but related to people and their lives. For my final project on my HND course I had photographed people’s hands, holding items they had ether grown or made which I compiled into a series called Home Grown. This example is of friend who is a keen amateur woodturner (it was he who made the handles for the projector sticks) the whole series can be viewed here.
So I was thinking I might do something about feet as a complementary series, then in October 2016 I attended the launch and talk on a book about the history of shoes as published by Vogue over the last 100 years or so, authored by Harriet Quick, the book is called “The Shoe”. It features exquisite photography by a litany of noted Vogue photographers through the decades including Corrine Day, Nick Knight, Norman Parkinson, David Bailey, Guy Bourdin, Mario Testino and Tim Walker. Acquiring a copy of the book helped the decision to base the project around shoes although there were still many avenues of approach that could be explored and I wanted to give this some further thought.
Some of the initial areas of approach I considered were :
Fashion. Clearly shoes are a key fashion item and there are many famous shoe designers who have carved reputations for themselves in this niche as big as the largest names in the Haute Couture world. The brands of Manilo Blahnik, Christian Louboutain and Jimmy Choo being known to many millions of people who could never hope to afford their exotic creations. In the age of the internet and social media there is close co-operation between designers, makers and celebrities for mutual self promotion.
Lady GaGa wearing extreme shoe fashion at a Victorias Secret collection launch event and the Met Gala in 2016.
Obsession. There are many examples of women who are obsessed with shoes, creating huge collections – perhaps most famously Imelda Marcos widow of deposed Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos who allegedly had a collection of more than 3,000 pairs of shoes in a country where the vast majority of citizens are notoriously poor, Meldos has spent decades fighting corruption charges that she had funded her sumptuous lifestyle illegally. After a period of exile she is still a very active member of Phillipines political life, when she was exiled much of her shoe collection was acquired by anti-Marcos factions and to this day are on public display in the Shoe Museum in the northern city of Marikina which is still used to highlight the excesses of the Marcos regime.
More recently professional poke player Beth Shak has attracted much attention with her collection of shoes estimated to number more than 1,200 including 700 pairs of Louboutin shoes, which were the subject of a post-divorce lawsuit as her ex-husband claimed she hid the true value (estimated at circa $1 million) of the collection during divorce proceedings.
Even more spectacularly, as of 2010, the author Danielle Steele reportedly owns some 6,000 pairs of Louboutin shoes according to Louboutin himself, “She comes to Paris, and she literally buys everything. Then she flies back to New York, says, ‘I’m a little disappointed — there’s nothing in the store,’ and walks out with 80 pairs,” he grinned. “She is super.” (The Cut, 2017) Although in a 2006 comment Steele had a slightly different view of this aspect of her life when speaking about the rumour that she had recently purchased 300 pairs of Christian Louboutin shoes in one visit to the store. “It shows how depressing my life is that the hottest rumour about me is that I bought 300 pairs of shoes,” she told reporters from the front row of the Chanel Couture show.(British Vogue, 2017)
On a slightly smaller scale during my first career as an IT Manager I once had a member of staff who said she had hundreds of pairs of shoes, stored in a specially outfitted spare bedroom and who freely admitted that some purchases never actually made it out of the door.
For women the obsession seems to be in selecting, obtaining and owning the shoes, and whilst everyone wants to look good or fashionable, however for some there is an undoubted sexual element too, this as stiletto heels force women to stand in a particular way that emphasises their sexuality. I have seen it argued that wearing such outrageous heels is a form of control for some women and, of course, for some men there is a recognised sexual fetish regarding shoes and womens feet.
In fact, it clearly wasn’t hard to read the thoughts of some charity shop assistants when I was buying some of the shoes for props inasmuch as they were clearly wondering why an unaccompanied, older male was buying women’s fashion shoes, particularly if they were of a more extreme nature. I gave up trying to explain ……………
Still Life, including compositions with other objects. I considered doing this almost as an extension of project 1 using shoes as the centre piece of classical still life compositions but wanted to move on from the previous project at least in some direction. Nonetheless there are many famous examples in the art world of artists who have taken inspiration from the humble shoe, perhaps most famously Van Gogh in “A Pair of Shoes“, 1886. This painting has been the subject of considerable philosophical debate since.
Painted in Paris between September – November 1886 Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890), oil on canvas, 38.1 cm x 45.3 cm currently in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation). According to the Museum website the picture is painted over another picture, apparently Van Gogh frequently did this to save money on canvasses.
In 2009 Cologne’s Wallraf Richartz Museum launched an exhibition entitled “Vincent van Gogh: Shoes,” built around the celebrated painting which I learned when I came across an interesting blog post about the exhibition and the writings of a number of distinguished philosophers who had differing opinions about the relevance of the work. The description of Van Gogh buying the worn out shoes at a Paris flea market ultimately most closely echoes my own experience of obtaining shoes from charity shops, car boot and jumble sales. Van Gogh returned to the theme several times.
In short there are many, many aspects to explore of what, at first glance, are very mundane objects. However it is exposing this element of mundanity to detailed scrutiny that I find fascinating.