Before there were museums, there were wunderkammer—cabinets of curiosity—glass and wood vitrines that, starting in the Renaissance, housed rare, valuable and historical objects which had been accumulated by someone important and were displayed for entertainment and edification. More than favorite knickknacks, these personal collections were intended to reveal something about how their owner saw the world. The idea lives on in Dan Bannino’s series, “Niche of Wonders–Rockstars’ Wunderkammer,” for which the Italian-born photographer imagined cabinets of curiosity for musicians ranging from Frank Sinatra to Taylor Swift.
Set like statuary in an arched wall niche, each of Bannino’s still lifes features a collection of objects associated with a musician. Some get typecast—Sinatra is represented by a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, his Oscar (Best Actor in a Supporting Role, 1954, From Here to Eternity), and a basil plant, to symbolize his love of pesto. Others are more surprising. Photography-dabbler and Mötley Crüe member Nikki Sixx gets a collection of vintage cameras; catlady/chanteuse Taylor Swift is represented by ceramic cat statues in honor of Doctor Meredith Grey and Detective Olivia Benson, her white and bicolor Scottish Folds. More surprising still: Roger Daltrey is personified by a half dozen silvery fish, a shout-out to his trout farm in East Sussex, England.
The idea for the series began when Bannino was watching a documentary about Alice Cooper, and learned about his love of golf. “I thought this was a brilliant contraposition between his character on stage and his private life. I couldn’t resist to make some research on this topic, discovering more about my favorite musicians and especially what they do when the stage curtains close,” Bannino tells PDN via email. Other inspiration came from the dramatic light and dark in paintings of Caravaggio, the color in Hiroshige woodblock prints, and a palette he attributes to Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch. Collecting the right props took the most time. “My material research is the longest thing: I start with a few objects I need and I go through all the flea markets, thrift shops and dusty attics I know (most of them are quirky and bizarre items). They have to follow a specific color palette I develop before starting each shooting,” he says. The wall color was a custom-mixed paint. “I wanted to have a special kind of grey that wasn’t too unsaturated, too dark or too cold. Something that would perfectly blend with all the props I had,” he says.
But mostly the inspiration came from his love of music. “I am a rocker, long hair, earrings and beard included,” he says. “My big passion for music brought me to develop this project.” —Rebecca Robertson