I saw this photograph in a recent New Yorker article about new information on the death of Chris McCandless. You may be familiar with the story of Chris McCandless through the book ‘Into the Wild’ by Jon Krakuaer or from the film of the same title.
I had not seen this picture before; the McCandless photographs that are usually shown are various self portraits showing his alarming loss of weight due to his limited diet in the wilds of Alaska.
This image was instantly more arresting - a still life of what was making up McCandless’ diet while he sheltered in an abandoned bus: pigeon, squirrel, wild fungi and of course what turns out to be the crux of the image, Wild Potato seeds. These seeds are believed to be what eventually killed him.
The photograph is reminiscent of so many still lives from the history of painting, but it also reminded me of the photographs from Jem Southam’s amazing little book 'Raft of Carrots’ (1989)
At a time when the cold eye of the camera in contemporary photography seems to be mainly aimed at whatever stylized subject is popular with collectors; to see an image that is purely about the objects at the heart of a mans survival (and hidden within that, his death) is incredibly powerful.
The multitude of historic oil paintings of draped game birds, bowls of fruit and gleaming fish never captured the painful necessity of the fight against starvation as this photograph does. And even the perfect placement of a human skull within the arrangement of any number of Vanitas paintings could never be as quietly foreboding as the inclusion of a ziploc bag of Wild Potato seeds.