Pig Head

Still Life with Severed Pig Head by Neal Auch


Years ago, in another life, I wrote extensively on the subject of instability.  I understood the word in terms that, at the time, seemed essential but now, in retrospect, feel baroque.  I traveled and moved constantly; I was all the time in airport bars scribbling mathematical proofs in a little notepad.  I owned next to nothing and functionally lived out of a suitcase in a seemingly endless series of rundown apartments, my memories of which have blurred together at this point.  I published my ideas on the subject of instability in myriad academic journals, and it would never have occurred to me to consider any application of the term in relation to my own life.

This image is about balance and instability, an attempt to unify the various meanings associated to those words.  These words have a literal meaning, of course, in relation to the arrangement of items on the table, the placement of the pig’s head, the way the cup threatens to roll from its perch on the cake stand, the way the platter full of intestines dangles over the ledge.  These words also have a meaning in terms of photographic composition, in reference to how the eye is guided across the image by successive points of interest. And, finally, these words carry metaphorical meaning. The tipped cup and precariously balanced dish are well-known motifs in still life, commonly understood as reminders of the fragility of life.  Dead animals and rotting foodstuffs carry a similar meaning in memento mori art and these usually serve as reminders of mortality and the transience of all things.

These days I spend less time in airport bars.

New Still Lifes Available in my Etsy Store by Neal Auch


“He blossoms like a flower, then withers; he flees like a shadow and does not last. ” -- Job 14:2

I've added prints of 5 new images to my online store.

This series is a selection of some of my most recent studies of memento mori art. As with my previous still life work, these compositions appropriate the motifs of 17th century Dutch still life and attempt to blend the metaphorical content of classical vanitas paintings with my own horror-film-inspired visual aesthetic.


The first three images of this series all incorporate the same key elements — pomegranates, dead mice, and organ meats — to explore ideas around death and sexuality. The pomegranate is a common element in still life painting that is usually understood to represent temptation and sin, due to the role the fruit plays in the Greek myth The Rape of Persephone. I found it natural to pair the pomegranate along with mice, another common element from the history of still life. Mice also typically have sexual connotations in still life paintings; the extraordinary fertility of mice means that they are often interpreted as symbols of lechery and destruction. In these images I pair the adult mouse with a handful of dead baby mice, reinforcing the underlying themes of sexuality.


I love the way the blood red colours of the pig intestines spilling about in these shots pairs with the saturated tones of the pomegranate. I also really enjoyed working with baby mice for this series; these are a visually interesting subject that I’ve only come to appreciate recently.


The last two images in this series incorporate dying flowers and rotting fruit, both very common motif from the history of still life painting. All still life compositions contain, to greater or lesser extent, a lament about the transience of all things and my works are certainly no exception. While the arrangements of flowers and fruits and breakfast tables in the boring section of the museum can look boring to contemporary viewers, their intended audience would have understood these works as a reminder that life, like the food and flowers, will soon be be gone.


All of these images are available in my Etsy store as 8X12" fine art print. The pieces come signed and titled and matted to fit readily into a standard 11X14" frame. I am happy to offer free shipping for customers in Canada or the US.


Still Life Studies with Severed Pig Head by Neal Auch


“Sooner or later everyone realises that perfect happiness is unrealisable, but there are few who realise the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. … The certainty of death … places a limit on every joy, but also on every grief.” -- Primo Levi

This series of images continues with my ongoing studies of memento mori art. As with my previous still life work, these compositions appropriate the motifs of 17th century Dutch still life and attempt to blend the metaphorical content of classical vanitas paintings with my own horror-film-inspired visual aesthetic.

Both of the images in this series incorporate a severed pig head. For me the pig’s head serves as a kind of stand-in for the role that human skulls would traditionally play in vanitas paintings. There is, of course, a very long history of skull iconography in art, ranging from religious paintings, to still life, and through to more contemporary examples like Damien Hirsh’s bejewelled skull. (It’s certainly well outside the scope of this project to attempt anything even remotely resembling a comprehensive study of skull iconography, but it is interesting to note just how ubiquitous this symbol is. Skulls appear not only in art but also on pirate flags, on the lapels of the SS, on day of the dead cookies, decorating the walls of religious sites like the Catacombs or the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome, on horror movie posters, on heavy metal album covers, on Halloween decorations, on children’s toys, etc, etc, etc. )


For these images I used a relatively fresh pig’s head. (The last one I purchased was maimed beyond use during my studies in disassembly…) While ripeness has certain advantages in terms of aesthetics, here I loved the way the fresh blood smearing the face and neck of the animal paired with the deep red of the roses and intestines.


Studies of the Pig's Head in Various States of Disassembly by Neal Auch

It's just a couple of weeks until the Shadowood Collective's group exhibition Betwixt & Between the Monsters we Dream, and I'm gearing up by sharing some of the images that will be part of the show.  These four images form a series -- a quadriptich? a tetraptych? -- and are part of my ongoing studies of the pig.  Here I've shown the animal's severed head in various states of disassembly.  Moving from left to right we have the head more-or-less intact, a section through the head showing internal organs, the head with the skin peeled off, and the skin mask that was left behind after removing the face.  I don't often work with the square crop, but here I really liked the simplicity of the compositions coupled with the semi-narrative quality of grouping the images together in this way.  Enjoy!

New Marco Photography: Pig Head & Black Chicken by Neal Auch


I've added some new close-up images to my gallery Inside!  First off, I had a chance to revisit the weird double-toe of the black chicken, pictured above.  I've shot black chicken parts several times before, and I think that this is probably the most technically challenging subject I've considered for this project.  Of course, there are all the usual complications of macro photography (shallow depth of field, stabilization, focus stacking, etc) but the most difficult obstacle to overcome here is the colour of the subject.  The skin of Silkie chicken of very nearly pure black and I wanted to shoot a low key dark image against black background.  It is extremely tricky to figure out how to light a black subject on a black background and still end up with an image that's clear and coherent.  It also doesn't help that the camera's light meter is pretty much useless in a situation like this; the camera wants to expose everything to mid-tone grey, which would mean drastically overexposing an image like this one.

Next I turned my attention to the eye of the pig.  This is my second time working with pig head, but my first time doing close-up work on that particular subject.  I find that there's something eerily human about pig eyes.  I don't know if it's the skin tone or the colour of the iris or what, but to me that first image looks oddly human.  For the second shot I peeled the pig's face off, revealing the muscle and flesh below, for a shot that feels (to me at least) much less human.

Finally I did some work with the pig's teeth.  The first image is the pig's molars; these reminded me a bit of a mountain range, so I opted for a 16:9 crop to emphasize that panoramic landscape-y feel.  The second shot is the front teeth of the pig, less majestic so I opted for the 2:3 aspect ratio that's pretty much the norm for my close-up work.

I have some exciting news and also more images of the pig's head are coming soon!  In the meantime, enjoy!