Zoe Zimmerman has made her reputation as a photographer in black and white, using human subjects (“Of Men, Strength and Vulnerability” was one acclaimed series). But when Covid19 shut down contact with others, she needed to venture into new territory. After her daughter returned from school on the East Coast to their home in Taos, NM, the two shared total lockdown for two weeks, and a recent project celebrating local working people had to be put on the back burner.
“I was developing two series simultaneously, and I had really hit my stride,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to lose my momentum—because I can get distracted for years.” So she turned her lens on the everyday objects in her surroundings, many of which have a personal significance, constructing a kind of visual diary. “They seem like fairly straightforward still lifes,” she says, “but there is something in all of them that has to do with an event that day.”
Self-Quarantine Still Life #14, for example, captures a vase of budding forsythia the artist focused on purely by accident, after another subject proved too frustrating. Self-Quarantine Still Life #3 commemorates a familiar sight in her household—the cat’s water bowl on a windowsill—but transformed into a study in grays and whites that glows like a detail from a Vermeer. (In fact, she notes that the Dutch masters were in the back of her mind as she studied the shifting light in her studio throughout the day.) The dead chicken in #24 was her daughter’s pet—“we have no idea why she died.”.
The artist previously shied away from color and turned to digital photography only for commercial projects. “I never had time to find my voice with color or with digital,” she says. “I’m still wary of color, but I’ve learned a whole lot. It’s good that I’m doing this work in real time and posting on social media and seeing people’s responses.”
In Zimmerman’s photos, an ancient genre meets a timely impulse, and the results are both startling and beautiful. Lockdown never looked so good.
Top: Self-Quarantine #16, archival pigment print, 16 by 20 inches