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  • Writer's picturesarahhawley

Keys: Unlocking the Past

Lately, I have been working on several still life photography projects using antiques. Going through a bag of items I borrowed for one of these projects, I came across some keys. Everything about them interested me. Their shape, weight, size, their aged appearance, and the mystery surrounding them. What were they used for, what did they unlock, who did they belong to, how did they get into the bottom of this bag? So many unanswered questions about these misplaced objects that inspired me to the point where I had to temporarily step away from my current projects to do a mini photoshoot with these keys.

These keys look very different from the ones we use today. I immediately noticed that they were well made with such care and detail. These items were built to last with both form and function in mind. They are made of a stronger, heavier metal than what the average key is made of today. The intricate decorative design and the shapes of some of the keys, indicated to me the high level of skill and pride the maker of these objects had. So many objects of the past are adorned with a decorative design on the surface, no matter what the object, how significant it was or how large or small.

Pride in making the item is what separates a master craftsman from the rest of the pack. For example, a modern-day factory worker that makes items, is under pressure to produce quickly with quantity over quality - although there are quality standards in place that need to be met, they are no match for what a master craftsman of a previous era would have produced.

Many objects today are produced with a different way of thinking. Items are often not built to last, time is money, and very few items are adorned with a decorative touch, as most items are made purely for functionality. In fact, many items are designed to break down and to be replaced rather than fixed when they are broken. This made me think about how much society has changed, especially with our mentality in the way we, as a society, think and operate. Yes, I got all of that from looking at a few old keys. It is amazing what happens when you are inspired, you never know what it will unlock.

Despite the simplicity of the function of the key itself, the shape and decorative elements are much more complex. I wanted that to come across in my imagery and I wanted the background of the image to be simple, but period correct to what you might expect to see during a time when the keys would have been in use. Aged wood and lighting were the perfect fit. They had a major impact on the mood and atmosphere that was created in the images with just the right amount of contrasting texture in the wood grain compared to the metal of the keys.

Viewing the collection of images produced from this photoshoot, a number of different compositions were assembled. I spent quite a bit of my time arranging and re-arranging the keys in different positions. All the images are of close-up photography, mainly because I was working with objects that were so small and I wanted to illustrate the detail, dirt, age and wear of these objects because that was a large part of why I was interested in them in the first place.

This project was completed in a day or so including the editing of the images. It was a nice small project that didn’t distract me for too long from the other projects I already had in progress. I think my other projects might actually benefit from this mini photoshoot, because I found inspiration there that was lacking in what I was already working on. So as a result, the break in a way refueled my interests and I found inspiration in this mini project that I can carry over as I return to my other projects.

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Jan Hawley
Jan Hawley
Sep 06, 2022

As someone who appreciates the skills and creative talents of past generations of craftspeople, I really enjoyed this post about old keys and what they can unlock. The photos and post complement each other well. Thanks!

Sep 06, 2022
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Hello and thank you so much for leaving a comment. It is nice to know there are others on the world wide web that appreciate the same things that I do. I also appreciate that you have left some positive feedback about this month's blog. It is nice to know that people are reading it and enjoying it. Thank you for your comment. I don't consider writing to be one of my strengths, but hopefully this blog will improve my writing abilities with practice. One of the things I always try to do is pair up imagery that compliments what is being written. Thanks again!

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