Activity: Make a Still Life Photograph

  • Grades: All Ages
  • Subjects: Art Activities

Johnstown, Pennsylvania-born photographer Luke Swank carefully considered each composition before taking a photograph. No matter what his subject was— steel mills, rural scenes, everyday objects, or even the circus—he used geometric arrangements of angles, shapes, light, and shadow in every image he produced. In today’s art activity, we’ll take a close look at his still life photo [Tape, Brush and Newspaper] and use it as inspiration for our own still life creations!

A black and white photo of a brush laid across a roll of tape, both sitting on top of a newspaper.
Luke Swank, [Tape, Brush, and Newspaper], C. 1932, Carnegie Museum of Art

Discuss with These Questions:

  • Swank layers different shapes to create his compositions. What shapes do you see in this photograph?
  • Try squinting at the photograph. Which shapes come forward, and which shapes recede?
  • What shapes do you see in the newspaper pages?
  • Notice the light. Which direction is it coming from? What shapes do the shadows make?
  • What objects does Swank use to make the shapes?

Get Creative: Make Art from Packaging

To make your own still life photo, grab a camera or a cell phone and a flashlight, a lamp, or something else that can serve as a source of light. Then go hunting around your house to find three everyday objects of your choice. These items will be the subject of your photo masterpiece!

  1. Arrange the objects on a flat surface, like the floor or a table.
  2. Position your light source to one side of the arrangement. Ask someone to hold it for you, if you need help!
  3. Look at the shapes your objects create. (Squint, if you need to.) Pay attention to the shapes created by the shadows, too!
  4. Rearrange the objects until you have created a composition you like.
  5. Snap a picture with your camera or cell phone. Try editing your final photograph using a black and white filter.