Artist Paulette Tavormina
January 18, 2023
Paulette Tavormina painstakingly composes photographs that suggest the old masters
Text by Robert Kiener
As she walks through the lush garden at her Litchfield home, Paulette Tavormina explains that she is looking for just the right morning glory to help her create the still-life fine-art photograph she’s been working on for almost a week. “Here,” she says excitedly as she spots a slender-stemmed, heart-shaped, purple-blue bloom. “It’s just what I need!”
Later, in her nearby photography studio, she adds the just-picked morning glory to an assortment of flowers, fruits, and vegetables that spill from a small container. After nearly a week of choosing, collecting, arranging, and rearranging, she is finally ready to photograph a composition that resembles the still-life paintings created by seventeenth-century European masters.
Tavormina, who is seventy-three and a former commercial photographer, has earned international acclaim for her evocative images. Nearly twenty years ago, after becoming fascinated by a friend’s still-life paintings, she began researching and studying seventeenth-century still lifes, especially those created by artists from the Dutch Golden Age. “I was hooked,” she remembers. “The way their work transcended time and place amazed—and inspired—me.”
To gather the elements that make up each still-life image, Tavormina prowls through everything from farmers markets to flower stalls to antique shops to her own garden. Her studio is chock-full of drawer after drawer of dried flowers, shells, butterflies, insects, and unusual artifacts—even a human skull—that she has collected to help her create her compositions.
There is both beauty and a deeper sense of narrative and symbolism in her photographs. “I want viewers to enjoy the image but also to see, as well as feel, the emotion I feel when I arrange a leaf just so, or when I add an object that may have a special, or hidden, meaning,” Tavormina explains. A butterfly, for example, may represent rebirth or the transitory nature of life. A decaying piece of fruit or flower may symbolize mortality.
“A composition may be intensely personal but at the same time can tell universal stories of life and love,” says Tavormina. “Memories can be embedded forever in a moment that is a photograph.”