The economical use of an image highlights a concern that I have been working through since the early days of my practice: how to use very little to create an image that is rich.

—Evan Lee

In the early 2000s, around the time that the Western world was switching from film to digital photography, Lee began working with a flatbed scanner as a stand-in for the camera. In response to contemporary photographic trends involving the production of complex, high-budget, large-scale photographs—Lee wanted to find a way to make the same sort of “rich” images, but economically. While producing high-resolution scans is often an arduous process, scanners make extremely detailed digital images without the exorbitant costs of photo gear and film


For the Dollar Store Still Life (2006) series, Lee purchased mass-produced consumer goods from dollar stores and arranged the items on a scanner in a darkened room. The resulting still life vignettes reference seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings that display a wealthy individual’s valuable possessions. These historical paintings are also deeply representative of a time of increasing urbanization and commerce and speak to the fleeting nature of earthly pleasures.

In Lee’s series, the low cost of each arrangement is stated in the work’s title, urging us to consider the effects of consumer capitalism and the economy of overseas manufacture and import.

Evan Lee, Dollar Store Still Life with Stones, Shells, Fish and Comb ($5), archival pigment print, 2006. Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery.

Production — Process
Image Credits: Production stills from Dollar Store Still Life (2006). Courtesy of the artist.

Her green plastic watering can
For her fake Chinese rubber plant
In the fake plastic earth
That she bought from a rubber man
In a town full of rubber plans
To get rid of itself …
— Radiohead, Fake Plastic Trees

Much has already been said about Andreas Gursky’s photographs of dollar store interiors. His 99 Cent II Diptychon (2001) (figures 43, 44) , comprising two panels that each measure approximately six feet, nine inches by eleven feet, one inch, is not only gargantuan, but also holds the distinction of being the world’s most expensive photograph, with a 2007 auction price of US$3.34 million. Given the work’s immense scale and commensurate market value, its subject is incongruously modest; it is a picture of common, everyday objects, albeit lots of them, and they are all perfectly arranged as if according to some compositional master plan. Almost anything that can be bought and taken home in a plastic bag can be found here, within the seemingly random yet harmonic gathering of tens of thousands of colourfully packaged goods that is punctuated here and there by ninety-nine–cent price signs and customers’ heads. Commodity, consumer, and cash value are rendered equal and visually undifferentiated through the resolute lens of this celebrated Fotokünstler.

99 Cent II Diptychon is not a still life, but it is relevant to a discussion on the genre. This now-iconic work uses the dollar store to display a mass collection of the everyday objects of our time—objects that will eventually be purchased and used. And despite the base and utilitarian nature of the goods, it is precisely the complex relationships between such objects, their collection, and their owners that a still life represents.

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Evan Lee, Dollar Store Still Life, archival pigment print, 2006. Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery.


Revisiting this thematic ten years later, Lee produced Hyakkin Still Life (2017). The Japanese term “hyakkin” refers to a “100 yen store.” For this iteration, Lee composed still lifes using items purchased from Daiso, a Japanese dollar store. The ten-year gap between the two series raises several questions: How has the value of one dollar changed? How has consumer culture in Canada evolved, economically and geopolitically? What sorts of cross-cultural borrowing happens through the trade of goods?
Bathed in the soft light of the scanner, the cheap plastic goods in both series take on an otherworldly quality, yet remain firmly rooted in the systems of capital, export and consumer culture.

Production — RECEIPTS
Image Credits: Production stills from Hyakkin Still Life (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

Q: Traditional still life paintings from the seventeenth century depict fruit, flowers and memento mori that symbolize specific cultural values. For the Dollar Store Still Life (2006) series, you made photographs of mundane and mass-produced objects using a flatbed scanner. How does this reinterpretation of the still life genre expand and critique contemporary economic values?

Production — Process
Image Credits: Production stills from Hyakkin Still Life (2017). Courtesy of the artist.

Evan Lee, Hyakkin Still Life (series), achival pigment print, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Monte Clark Gallery.