Floral photography is often defined through limited visual assumptions. ‘This Is Not The Chelsea Flower Show’ confronts these assumptions head on with a dynamic display of work by seven world-class photographers’. Each photographer takes a very different standpoint and explores the use of floral imagery in their own unique way, re-appraising our notions of the flower within the photographic image.
The Instant Garden: Charting the territory between the photographic and the virtual by Lisa Creagh is an attempt to bridge the ‘hand-made’ elements of highly detailed and painstakingly constructed crafts (needlework, lace making, quilts, crochet, etc.) with the techniques of digital manipulation and construction that has emerged with new twenty-first century photographic software.
If the photographic is commonly associated with a decisive ‘trapping’ of a moment within linear time, the rich and elaborate patterns of decorative arts are associated with a very different, cyclical temporality associated with the seasons, and cycles of birth and death.
Using the idea of the ‘instant garden’ created when a richly floral carpet was thrown to the ground in ancient Persia, she creates a new kind of ‘garden’ using composite images of industrially grown flowers. The result is a product of a slow, ponderous process of assembling ‘pieces’. The soft lighting, reminiscent of Dutch Still Life paintings, is used to enhance a sense of distance and deep space as the “real” flower is converted through software into the flower symbol found in many ancient decorative arts.
The artificiality of these organic objects is heightened by their contortions into geometrical shapes. This is not an organic garden, but rather a hothouse of multiply-identical flowers: a stylised and highly ordered scientific space, where small creatures flit in the eerie artificial light. This image of nature controlled is echoed in the etymological root of the word, which suggests an enclosure of nature for man’s intervention.
This work sits in the uncomfortable space between the aestheticization and the exploitation of nature, offering not conclusions, but suggestions about ‘making’ rather than ‘shooting’ and a new relationship between ancient and modern that speaks to both.
Eikoh Hosoe’s portraits of the famed Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima are a haunting reminder of his tumultuous life, brought to an abrupt end when Mishima committed seppuku on November 25th 1970, aged 45. Hosoe’s series Barakei (Ordeal By Roses) began in the autumn of 1961. The tortured emotions of a man torn between his personal life, sexuality and political beliefs are sensitively rendered by Hosoe’s lens, with a magical aesthetic sensitivity to his subject. It remains a timeless classic of the photographic genre.
Flora is a series of photographs of Neeta Madahar’s female friends alongside plants whose names - such as Orchid, Poppy or Primrose - are also used as womens given names. The portraits are shot in a style reminiscent of 1930-50s Hollywood glamour images, staged and theatrical, evocative of a bygone age. However, they are still very much anchored in the here and now, conscious of avoiding a nostalgic reading.
Flora explores an extreme, stylised form of femininity and the associations between fantasy and female beauty. This area continues to be ripe for examination, especially given the ever-burgeoning pressure on the human body to be perfect and therefore ‘unrealistic.’ Central to the project is the rejection of conventional fashion models.
These collaborators select the flora they are to be paired with. In some instances, the sitters have suggested themes or emotions such as melancholy or innocence that they wish conveyed in their portrait. Each of the sitters has also brought an item to include in their portrait so that an element of partnership is tangibly evident.
Shot with a large format view camera, aspects of the images are highly detailed. The choice of props, hair and make-up as well as the technical aspects of the photographs are considered with great care through discussions with each sitter. Formally, the production of luscious, colour saturated prints is a deliberate means of seducing viewers into scrutinizing the works more intensely.
Robert Mapplethorpe often used the flower as a metaphor for his own psychological state. His flowers conjure up meditative, emotive and provocative feelings, whilst retaining the beautiful aesthetic of the subject. Mapplethorpe’s flower images were taken from the 1970’s until just months before his death. In retrospect they act as a fitting tribute to the man and his work.
The Spirit Collection by Brittain Bright explores the fragments of stories and the element of mystery inherent in the medium of photography. A moment captured by a camera is literally suspended, always between past and future.
The Spirit Collection is a part of the Herbarium collections at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The flowers are preserved in fluid because they are specimens, which cannot be pressed; they have a great scientific value as well as a ghostly quality. These images create a loose portrait of that collection through a series of still lifes that blend the visual lushness of the flora with the intense focus and the minute level of inspection allowed by a large format camera. There is also an important element of history to the collection; the hand-written labels in some of the jars date back to the 1880s. Science evolves, as does nature. Still these specimens sit in their neat rows of labelled jars, frozen in time, dead but never to decay.
Dora Maar, most famously known as the sitter, muse and partner of Pablo Picasso, notably ‘The Weeping Woman’. Maar also documented Picasso’s iconic painting ‘Guernica’. She was however already a famous photographer when she met him in 1936. She supported herself in the 1920’s and 1930’s as a commercial photographer. She brought her own vision to an otherwise uniform genre. Her avant garde and Surrealist imagery made her famous within the art world. Assia was Maar’s favourite model. The exhibition features a unique oversized vintage print of Assia looking through a flower, made in 1934.
Kate Owens 28 Flower Diary explores traditional feminine occupations like floristry that were once seen as safe occupations to tame idle hands and minds. Owens wanted to up-end this, creating bouquets which revel in and reveal something uncontrollable.
28 Flower Diary makes visible the physical, sexual and emotional impact of the menstrual cycle.
The bouquets are created in Photoshop and combined with diary extracts. The flowers – bought or grown by Owens – are chosen for their symbolic meanings. They mirror Victorian floral arrangements used to express unspoken feelings, subverting the idea of flowers and women as soft, pretty and controlled and representing them as sometimes dark, sexual and untamed.
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