Vassar Still Life captures campus’ character through shots of found objects

Courtesy of Vassar Still Life.

Vassar Still Life is a messy museum of images that, collectively, can only be described as being so Vassar. The Instagram account (@vassarstilllife) shared its first post on Oct. 25, 2019 and has since posted 226 similarly random, yet oddly meaningful Vassar still lifes, most submitted anonymously by other Vassar students. Weird, contradictory, ironic and important, these photos mark the seemingly insignificant, yet evidently noteworthy, traces of our presence on this campus.

The subjects of these photographs range immensely: lonely masks abandoned on the sidewalk; milk cartons next to Marlboro cigarettes; overflowing recycling bins; unsuspecting solo cups in unexpected places. Together, these found objects captured on camera tell the story of Vassar—its culture, its vibe and the random moments that make up life here.

Courtesy of Vassar Still Life.

I’ve followed @vassarstilllife since last spring and honestly wish I had come up with the idea myself, as many of my own photos easily fall into this genre. So I was really excited to meet the person behind the account, who wished to remain anonymous, and chat about this space that they have created. 

Courtesy of Vassar Still Life.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Miscellany News: What sparked you to start Vassar Still Life?

Vassar Still Life: There was a bunch of random stuff just kind of left in the entrance of my dorm building one of the first few days, and I took a photo because I thought it was really funny—it was like olives and veggie chips and very stereotypically, I don’t know, Vassar. And I just took that and took a couple other photos of random things I saw lying around move-in week, and they were just these little Vassar still lifes. And I was like, what if I just posted these random, little photos of just objects and little still lifes? And then I really enjoyed doing it, and it kind of spiraled.

The Misc: I liked the line in your bio: “intentional and unintentional readymade.” What does the idea of readymade mean to you, and when you were taking the photos how did you decide what you were going to photograph? What made you see something and think, “Oh, this is a Still Life—this is something I want to share?”

Vassar Still Life: The theme of the account is kind of split between what would more classically be just like a still life and what would be more like a readymade or Dada kind of inspired piece. But I guess I choose things that I feel either look interesting and look like they shouldn’t be there, or even if they should, anything that I feel reflects the culture or lives of Vassar students. I really just want the account to be authentic documentation of the way that people live at Vassar and the way that Vassar exists. And I feel like, especially with social media, it’s so focused on individual people or groups of people, and it’s very curated and edited and posed. And just photographing random objects the way that they just happen to occur or even setting up funny little tableaus of objects is a more authentic representation of daily life.

The Misc: What is it about Vassar and the culture here that you think makes it suited for this type of account?

Vassar Still Life: I feel like this account would be really different anywhere else. What people are doing is reflected, so there are substances in photos and people doing art—it’s a lot of what people happen to leave around. It is really interesting to see the same things that reoccur in everyone’s photos, whether it’s photos my friends are sending me or people I don’t even know. Just like people doing creative things, like art supplies, also just like a lot of milk and cigarettes are in every photo.

The Misc: Definitely a theme. And I saw on your account that you made a zine [We paused here to discuss the pronunciation of the word “zine.”] with photos from last year, right? What was that process like?

Vassar Still Life: That was a project I’d wanted to do every semester of just compiling all the photos, doing tallies of what different objects reappear most, because I think the trends of what people have constantly around them is really interesting. And I also just wanted to make the photos more connected to each other; even though they’re kind of posted randomly and not really in sync with each other, I wanted to show that there are connections that you can make with some of them. And I also just really wanted to make a zine, and I left it a few places around campus and I want to do it again this semester, especially since I’ve gotten so many more submissions. 

The Misc: Because this semester and this whole year is just so different than last year, do you feel like the connection to campus and that connection to your account feels different?

Vassar Still Life: Yeah, I definitely think so. It’s helped me stay connected to different parts of campus, especially with more restrictions on what dorms you can go into and not going into classroom buildings at all, basically. It’s really been nice to see that there’s life still happening in the places I’m not able to go.

Life is certainly still happening on campus, and @vassarstilllife reminds its followers of that. The little moments it shares are what really matter. These simple images of objects, clutter and messes are sacred. They are raw and real, a true reflection of Vassar’s offbeat character.

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