I am starting to feel that I am making progress now, not necessarily with the images but with the ideas that I want to pursue to make the images for Body of Work.
I learned from studying the Cyanotypes and comparing these with Japanese Aizuri prints. I looked at the general composition of the Japanese prints and compared these to the Cyanotypes. Although Anna Atkins work has been acclaimed aesthetically, it was produced for a scientific, botanic purpose. I do not think that she would have considered a framing that excluded some of the subject matter, as is the case with some of the Japanese floral images, as shown in the Chrysanthemum below.
I intend to experiment with some more Cyanotypes but with a Japanese style composition to try to reflect the Aizuri-e. I give an example of this below where I show a Cyanotype of an Iris produced by Anna Atkins, my own Cyanotype taken in response to the Atkins’ version, followed by my own Aizuri style Cyanotype of the Iris.
I have also learned about Surimono which I had not come across until I started my research work. Image and text is nothing new in photography, in the section on Surimono I refer to the work of Karen Knorr and Sunil Gupta. I also know of the book Positives (Gunn1966) which is a collection of poetry written by Thom Gunn. On the page facing each poem is a photograph taken by his brother Ander Gunn, the photograph being an interpretation of the poem.
I feel that the Surimono format gives the opportunity to combine text and image to tackle my theme of flowers and the dangers they face. I now need to experiment more on how this will look, with the text and image combined or with the text separate from the image.
Reading Paul Davis’ work on typologies gave me the idea of presenting the ‘Grave Flowers’ series. Something else I need to do more work on.
Davis, P. (2017) Can the photographic typology be defined? At: https://medium.com/@pdtv/can-the-photographic-typology-be-defined-bfa38d5699f3 (Accessed 12/03/2020).
Gunn, T. (1966) Positives: Verses by Thom Gunn; Photographs by Ander Gunn. London: Faber & Faber.
I had the idea of photographing the flowers left in a cemetery and while looking for possible subjects I was struck by two things – those where the flowers had been left to wilt and wither – and those where artificial flowers had been left. When the artificial flowers were new the colours were quite garish, but those that had been there some time the colours had faded.
I deliberately cropped the images very tightly to concentrate attention on the flowers, but the text on the headstones provides context. Flowers, particularly when drooping or losing petals, are a typical motif of the transience of life, frequently used in Vanitas still life paintings, particularly in Dutch and Spanish art of the 17th century (Chilvers 2009). I think that the images present a form of vanitas, portraying the transient nature of things. The bright artificial flowers placed on a grave possibly signify a temporary defiance of mortality, but even these fade away over time.
Seen together they form a typology of images. Davis (2017) outlines four factors; subject, environment, process, and presentation/direction, that are used to rate consistency within the typologyand that “a high level of consistency within a number of these factors is required in order for a body of work to be classified as a typology” (ibid). I think that there is the possibility of continuing this series to produce many more of the images to meet these four factors.
I thought that these images could be an extension of my ‘A Little Less than Perfect’ series and that they serve as a motif for the evanescent nature of life both plant and animal.
The images are just ones taken on my phone on a dog walk as an idea, a concept for something that I might explore further when I could spend more time on looking for and photographing suitable images (without also having to keep hold of the dog!)
Surimono are a type of Japanese woodblock prints that combine a printed image with poetry. They were generally privately commissioned and “became very popular in the Edo period (1615-1868), specifically during the later eighteenth century and into the first three to four decades of the nineteenth” (Siffert 1996).
The poems were mainly in the Kyoka style with a line sequence of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables, occasionally Haiku with a sequence 5-7-5 syllables. “Poets often commissioned an artist, usually one of the Ukiyo-e school, to create illustrations with scenes or motifs that somehow resonated with the poems” (Kazuhiro 2005:181) . The uses of Surimono were quite diverse but would often be used for New Year Greetings (Hanaoka & Pollard 2018).
Black Crow for New Year, Totoya Hokkei, Woodblock print (surimono), 1825, 20.3x18.7cm, Brooklyn Museum
I thought that I could possibly use the Surimono format of text and image to pursue my ‘topic of significant importance’ which is flowers and the threats that they face.
During my research into the cyanotypes of Anna Atkins in Barnes (2018), I came across the work of Barbara and Zafer Baran. This gave me an idea for the format of the image to use on the Surimono, They use digital scanning techniques and “place the specimens directly onto the scanner. Light passes through the transparent leaves and petals of the plants to reveal a luminous inner structure” (Baran 2020). In 2004 their work featured on a series of postage stamps to celebrate the bicentenary of the Royal Horticultural Society (Baran, B. and Baran, Z. s.d.).
Following this I experimented with using a scanner to get a floral image. With the flower laid directly on the scanner and the lid closed, the flower is slightly compressed. The resulting image has a distinct lack of perspective and, depending on the flower, can be brightly coloured – very much in the style of Japanese prints. On screen the prints can look quite stark so I experimented with printing them on different photo papers. I found that the best results came from using bamboo paper where the colours remain vibrant and the overall effect is one of a painted or printed surface.
There is a danger when combining poems with floral images that the end product looks like something straight from Clinton’s Cards. I tried to overcome this with my choice of topic for the poem. The poems on the image are in the Kyoka style and are ‘found poems’ i.e the text is taken from elsewhere and follow my ‘theme of significant importance’. So, the poem with the Iris consists of the names of banned pesticides, the Rose has the names of plant diseases, the Snowdrop was taken from a gardening text about Mildew, the Narcissus is reporting on climate change and the text next to the Tulip is the chemical symbols of banned pesticides. I have experimented with different types of text for the poem in the five images. I think that the ‘Mildew’ poem works best along with the environmental effects on the Narcissus, the pesticides and chemical names are interesting, but the chemical symbols less so. For future efforts I will look for more of the gardening or environmental texts.
In thinking about Surimono I began to consider when text was used in photography. On a recent visit to the ‘Masculinities’ exhibition at the Barbican I came across a couple of examples of this.
The first was by Sunil Gupta
The next was by Karen Knorr
I also know of recent work by the poet George Szirtes and his wife Clarissa Upchurch. They have produced a series of Clarissa’s etchings of clouds with a poetic response to the image by George.
I found it interesting that in each case the text seems separated from the image as opposed to the Surimono style where the text and image are more integrated. The challenge for me, I think, is to look at ways that images and text can be integrated into one overall work.
Baran, B. and Baran, Z. (s.d.) RHS stamps. At: http://www.zb-baran.co.uk/archive/rhs.html (Accessed 09/03/2020).
Barnes, M. et al. (2018) Cameraless photography. London: Thames & Hudson (V&A photography library)
Hanaoka, K. and Pollard, C. (2018) Plum Blossom and Green Willow: Japanese surimono poetry prints from the Ashmolean Museum. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum.
Kazuhiro, K. (2005) ‘The ‘Surimono Artist’ Hokusai in the Society of Edo Kyoka Poets’ In: Carpenter, J. (ed.) Hokusai and His Age: Ukiyo-e Painting, Printmaking and Book Illustration in Late Edo Japan. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing. pp.180–215.
Siffert, B. (1996) ‘Surimono in the Clarence Buckingham Japanese Print Collection: An Introduction’ In: Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 22 (1) pp.55–95.
Atkins was recognised as “the first woman photographer” Johnson (2004:26), publishing the first photographically illustrated book in 1843 ‘Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions” (Schaaf 2018). The cyanotype process was invented by Sir John Herschel from whom Atkins learned the process on visits to his household (Ware 2018).
“Atkins’s achievements, like those of many Victorian women, were largely forgotten after death in 1871 and remained unknown for years” (Liberty 2018). Her work has been classified by some as photographic prints not as photography (Warner 2018). This perhaps refers to definitions of photography that “essentialize reproducibility and repetition” Hornby (2006:88).
It is only relatively recently that Atkins has been recognised for her achievements with the first museum exhibition of her work being held in 1988 (Schaaf 2018).
Much of the more recent recognition of Atkins’ work comes not from the scientific achievements but from acknowledgement of the aesthetic quality of her work. Friedewald (2018) notes that as well as her interest in botany she was also a talented artist. Batchen (2016) and Rosenblum (1994) comment on the placement or composition of her images while Naef (2004) discusses the combination of natural designs and strong colour in her work. These elements seem to transcend the scientific nature of Atkins’ original intent, her images have “an elegance of placement and form that belies the supposed cool objectivity of their presentation” Sandback (1997:28).
‘Photographs of British Algae’ contained over 400 individual cyanotype prints and over 13 copies of the book (each page of which will have been individually prepared), although some of the copies have fewer pages (Isenogle 2019). Atkins produced further collections ‘Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns’ in 1853 and ‘Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns’ in 1854. Combining the various collections shows that Atkins produced thousands of cyanotypes over her life.
Studying the work of Anna Atkins and her eventual recognition for the aesthetic qualities of her images, I am struck by the parallels with Karl Blossfeldt and ‘Art Forms in Nature’ which I studied in Part 1 of this course. In both cases work produced for educational or scientific purposes has, later, been acclaimed for its aesthetic appeal. As with Blossfeldt, Atkins’ work has been applauded for its form and composition.
Having studied Atkins’ work, I made my own cyanotypes trying, through selection and composition, to consider the aesthetic appeal of the final image.
In early attempts I tried using quite thick specimens without compressing them, the end result was that the shadows also had an effect on the final image, making these pansies unrecognisable and the snowdrops very fuzzy
I then used glass plates to keep the specimens in place and generally chose much thinner specimens, keeping closer to the style of Anna Atkins
After this I tried some thicker specimens, again covered with glass to stop them moving in the wind and to minimise shadows.
In the Research Module I am studying alongside this Body of Work, I have been researching Japanese art, particularly woodblock prints. One style of print is known as Aizuri-e, literally meaning ‘blue print’’ it was a form of Japanese woodblock print that came into widespread use in the mid-19th century (Blaine s.d.). It developed from the wider availability of “Prussian Blue” (or German Blue) ink in Japan at that time. This was a much richer, more intense blue than had been available up to that time. Artists took advantage of the intensity of colour to produce monochrome woodblock prints:
"Peonies", Kesai Eisen, 1830s, 22.9x36.8cm, woodblock print, RISD Museum
"Black" bamboo, Utagawa Kunisato, 1858, 24.1x17cm, woodblock print, RISD Museum
I was taken by the affinities between Aizuri-e prints and the cyanotypes of Anna Atkins and others that I had been studying. The common factor being the use of Prussian Blue although the method of production between Japanese Aizuri-e and Western Cyanotypes are very different. The affinities are particularly true in the work of people like Arthur Wesley Dow. Dow was an influential art teacher in the US, he studied Japanese art and “is known for pioneering theories of art and art education that he attributed to Japanese elements and principles of art and design” (Williams 2013:104).
Dow considered that the Eastern aesthetic could be divided into three elements “line, which includes spacing, rhythm and proportion; color or the quality of light; and notan, a Japanese word describing the quantity of light, tonal differences, and the values and gradations that create harmony” (Green 1991:10). He took up photography at the beginning of his career and, as with many others at the time, used the Cyanotype process “Many photographers relegated this blueprint process to trial or proof prints, but Dow had the imagination to feature it” (Michaels 1999:85)
Dow produced a book on composition (Dow 1914) which included a chapter on flowers. He considered that it
“is essential that the space should be cut by the main lines (Subordination). A small spray in the middle of a big oblong, or disconnected groups of flowers, cannot be called compositions all the lines and areas must be related one to another by connections and placings, so as to form a beautiful whole. Not a picture of a flower is sought,—that can be left to the botanist—but rather an irregular pattern of lines and spaces, something far beyond the mere drawing of of a flower from nature, and laying an oblong over it, or vice versa. ” (Dow 1914:63)
His cyanotype of a Lotus bud illustrates his style.
“Lotus, One of Our Flowers”, Arthur Wesley Dow, c1900, Photograph, cyanotype, 20.3x12.7 cm
I tried a few cyanotypes with a more Japanese Aizuri-e style. Simply placing the flower on to the treated Cyanotype paper would not give the level of detail that is available in the Aizuir-e. I photographed the flowers and printed them, as a negative, on to an acetate sheet and placed this over the treated cyanotype paper before exposing the sheet. The image of the Iris has been framed in the Tanzaku style, a narrow vertical format which often has printed verse or space to write a poem. All of the other images have been framed to Oban format, the most common print size at 10″ x 15″ or 25 x 38 cm.
While researching Atkins’ cyanotypes I came across a book on cameraless techniques (Barnes et al 2018) and read about the work of Barbara and Zafer Baran. I made my own images in this way and combined them with ‘found’ poetry in the style of the Japanese Surimono. – see my separate blog entry here.
I also came across the work of Betty Hahn, a photographer who has used Cyanotypes and Van Dyke prints in producing her series ‘Cut Flowers’ and flowers also feature in ‘20 x 24 polaroids‘ also . I intend to spend more time investigating her work and perhaps produce my own responses to it.
Barnes, M. et al. (2018) Cameraless Photography. London: Thames & Hudson (V&A photography library)
Batchen, G. (2016) Emanations: The art of the cameraless photograph. Munich: Prestel Verlag.
Blaine, I. S. (s.d.) The Blue Era. At: https://www.tmja.org.il/eng/Exhibitions/4024/The_Blue_Era (Accessed 03/03/2020).
Dow, A. W. (1914) Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co. At: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/45410/45410-pdf.pdf
Friedewald, B. (2018) Women Photographers: From Julia Margaret Cameron to Cindy Sherman. Munich:London: Prestel.
Green, N. E. (1991) Arthur Wesley Dow and his Influence. New York: Cornell University.
Hornby, L. E. J. (2006) ‘The Cameraless Optic: Anna Atkins and Virginia Woolf’ In: English language notes 44 (2) pp.87–100.
Isenogle, M. R. (2019) Anna Atkins: Catalyst of Modern Photography Through the First Photobook. [MA] Graduate College of Bowling Green State University. At: https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=bgsu1522796885194359&disposition=inline
Johnson, B. (2004) Photography speaks: 150 photographers on their art. New York: Aperture Foundation.
Liberty, M. (2018) Anna Atkins & Photography’s Blue Beginnings. At: https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/11/24/anna-atkins-photographys-blue-beginnings/ (Accessed 02/03/2020).
Michaels, B. L. (1999) ‘Arthur Wesley Dow and Photography’ In: Green, N.E. et al. (eds.) Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922): His Art and His Influence. New York: Spanierman Gallery, LLC. pp.85–91.
Naef, W. (2004) Photographers of Genius at the Getty. Los Angeles: Getty Publications.
Rosenblum, N. (1994) A history of women photographers. Paris: Abbeville Press.
Sandback, A. B. (1997) ‘Endeavor of Like Spirits: Anna Atkins & Judy Pfaff’ In: On Paper 1 (5) pp.28–29.
Schaaf, L. (2018) ‘Pleasurable Offerings to Botanical Friends’ In: Chuang, J. (ed.) Sun Gardens – Cyanotypes by Anna Atkins. New York: New York Public Library. pp.37–89.
Ware, M. (2018) ‘On the Origins, Care, and Feeding of Cyanotypes’ In: Chuang, J. (ed.) Sun Gardens – Cyanotypes by Anna Atkins. New York: New York Public Library. pp.193–201.
Warner, M. (2018) Anna Atkins. At: https://www.bjp-online.com/tag/anna-atkins/ (Accessed 02/03/2020).
Whittern, J. (2000) ‘Who was… Anna Atkins?’ In: Biologist : journal of the Institute of Biology. 47 (3) pp.129–130.
Williams, B. L. (2013) ‘Japanese Aesthetic Influences on Early 20th-Century Art Education: Arthur Wesley Dow and Ernest Fenollosa’ In: Visual Arts Research 39 (2) pp.104–115.
My thinking on the topical theme is beginning to focus now following feedback from my two tutors. I need to be clearer on what I am trying to achieve. As suggested by my Research tutor all references will now be to ‘Flora’ and for my Body of Work I will look at this in the context of still life and vanitas images.
I now need to experiment with producing images and not try to overthink in advance. I will still study the work of other photographers and produce my own work in response to them as this helps me to think of new ways of approaching the subject. I found that the study of Karl Blossfeldt’s work helped me to think more about form and patterns.
I have also started to realise how work, intended for a different (possibly scientific) purpose can, later, be appreciated for its aesthetic qualities. I started to consider this in previous History of Art modules when studying appropriation of African, Asian and American works in museums and galleries. Now, through studying the life and works of Anna Atkins and Karl Blossfeldt I have seen how their scientific approach (for educational purposes) has, some time later, been accepted for its aesthetic qualities.
I feel that I have made a rather slow start to the Body of
Work module, this is probably because I have spent a lot of time on the
Research course. I thought that I needed to pin down the Research question as
much as I could before I took any photographs, otherwise I might have spent a
lot of time taken photos that were not relevant to the topic that I was
studying in the Research module.
As the research question started to become a little clearer,
comparing flowers in art between Japan and the West, I felt that I should start
to make some images. I thought it might be an idea to study the work of some
practitioners known for their photographs of flowers and then to produce some
images that were influenced by this study. I would be looking at most of these
photographers in the Research Study, but I felt it important to include some
more contemporary photographs (my Research study is only looking at the period
1830-1940) to see how they may have responded to art from the past and also to
broaden my own view of how to make images.
I have found there to be a lot of duplication in the
exercises between the two modules, I guess that this is designed to help people
establish connections between Body of Work and Research, but personally I found
it somewhat repetitive.
Overall though, I am pleased to at least have started to
take some photos and I very much enjoyed looking into the work of Karl
Blossfeldt and producing images that were influenced by what I had learned. I
also enjoyed taking a few photos in my ‘Little Less than Perfect’ series. This
was influenced by my background reading for the Research and Body of Work
modules. Right at the beginning of the course I had looked at the work of
Irving Penn whose flower images were shown on the cover of a number of episodes
of Vogue. I was interested in how he sometimes chose flowers that had just
passed their peak to give a more interesting image. I wanted to experiment with
this, even though his work came from outside the time period I was looking at
in my Research. As I say above, I think it is appropriate for me to continue to
do this, alongside my research studies
From 1898 to 1930 Blossfeldt taught at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin (Karl Blossfeldt | MoMA (s.d.). He did not consider himself as a photographer, instead an “enthusiastic amateur … took pictures with a home-made wooden camera, using his images as a teaching aid in the drawing classes he gave” Adam (2014 p19). He took photographs of plants which he enlarged to show his students the “forms and patterns he discovered in the natural world” (Murata 2014 p1).
According to Adam (2014) we currently only know of a few hundred images taken by Blossfeldt, but it is thought that he may have taken around 6,000 plant pictures altogether.
Murata (2014) describes how, in 1925, some of Blossfeldt’s images were exhibited at the school at which he taught, and it may have been that this was seen by Karl Nierendorf, an influential collector and owner of an art gallery. In 1926 Blossfeldt had his first exhibition outside of academic settings at Galerie Nierendorf, Berlin. The exhibition was very successful; it led to the publication of Blossfeldt’s first book Urformen der Kunst (Art Forms in Nature) in 1928 and to the inclusion of Blossfeldt’s work in the prestigious exhibitions Fotografie der Gegenwart and Film und Foto, both in 1929. Two further books of Blossfeldt’s images were produced; Wundergarten der Natur (The Magic Garden of Nature) in 1932 and, published posthumously in 1942, Wunder in der Natur (Magic in Nature).
Blossfeldt’s work can be stark, concentrating on the forms and patterns of the plants that he is photographing. Stepan (1999 p24) considers that “Blossfeldt’s plant photographs are the best examples of photography following the precepts of Neue Sachlichkeit”. Often translated as ‘New Objectivity’ it originated in Germany in about 1918. It is described by Murray (1997 p368) as “a reaction against Expressionism” and where “a new attention to realistic representation of actual objects in a detailed way – thus also reacting against the muzziness of Impressionism”. This may be a little misleading as, while it undoubtedly stood for realism and objectivity, Neue Sachlichkeit is also renowned for its biting political comment; “its major trend involved the use of meticulous detail and violent satire to portray the face of evil” (Chilvers 2009 p439). The movement is most associated with the painters Otto Dix and George Grosz. Long (2016) places Blossfeldt’s work as part of the “inter-war German Neues Sehen (New Vision) movement”. This movement “aimed to look at the world through the camera lens, using it as a mirror to the reality of the everyday” Tate (s.d.). The Neues Sehen was most closely associated with the work of the Bauhaus and the photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.
To me Blossfeldt’s images are all about form, pattern and rhythm, which aren’t always visible to the naked eye, being revealed by the magnification used. Generally, they are taken from the front, occasionally from above. All his images are monochrome and photographed against a plain, grey background, usually light grey but sometimes dark. Also, the lighting of the subject is very flat and diffused, no suggestion of chiaroscuro here. The effect of this is to concentrate the viewer’s attention on the shapes and patterns of the plants being displayed. The plants are totally out of context, not in their natural setting, which adds a sense of detachment or abstraction and makes it easier to consider their geometry rather than regarding them as natural objects. It makes it a much more analytical process.
The success of the image depends on the choice of subject. Blossfeldt has very carefully selected the plants he photographed, choosing a specimen that displays an architecture not normally seen in its usual context. This is perfectly displayed in his image of a Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum).
We are used to seeing fern leaves just as they start to unroll, but the success of this image lies as much in the composition as in the natural forms of the ferns. Four fern leaves in the background are counterbalanced by two leaves in front which face in the opposite direction. This attracts the interest of the viewer in working out the composition compared to if the leaves had all been facing the same way. It adds a counteraction to the rhythm of the scene.
This is also a good example of Blossfeldt’s use of the ‘architecture’ of the plants, it is easy to see the influence this may have had on Art Nouveau designs.
Adam (2017 p22) describes how Blossfeldt worked against the photographic fashion of the time, stating that when he “started out on his detailed plant documentation, pictorialist soft focus was in vogue, yet when he concluded his life’s work, his conception of the image was not only contemporary, but was considered progressive”. Blossfeldts’ work received considerable praise from Walter Benjamin “These photographs reveal an unsuspected horde of analogies and forms in the existence of plants. Only the photograph is capable of this” (Benjamin 2008:272).
Having studied Blossfeldt’s work I have made my own images, not wanting to copy what he did, but to see how I would be influenced by his work. I did not necessarily choose close-ups for all the images, although the majority were. I chose a plain background and used monochrome, as Blossfeldt did, to focus attention on the structures of the plant. Generally, I took a frontal view of the subject with even lighting, taking care in the composition of the individual plant. Most of all though, I tried to select the subject plants very carefully for the interest in form or pattern that they provided.
Abbaspour, M. (s.d.) Karl Blossfeldt | Object:Photo | MoMA. At: https://www.moma.org/interactives/objectphoto/artists/24413.html (Accessed on 18 November 2019)
Adam, H. (2017) Karl Blossfeldt: the complete published work. Koln: Taschen.
Benjamin, W. (2008) ‘News About Flowers’ In: Jennings, Doherty & Levin (ed.) .The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media. Translated by H. Eiland, R. Livingstone & E. Jephcott, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp.271–273.
Blossfeldt, K. and Adam, H.-C. (2017) Karl Blossfeldt: the complete published work. Koln: Taschen.
Chilvers, I. (2009) The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (4th Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Karl Blossfeldt (2016) At: https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/karl-blossfeldt?all/all/all/all/0 (Accessed on 18 November 2019)
Karl Blossfeldt (s.d.) At: https://www.michaelhoppengallery.com/artists/58-karl-blossfeldt/overview/ (Accessed on 18 November 2019)
Karl Blossfeldt | artnet (s.d.) At: http://www.artnet.com/artists/karl-blossfeldt/ (Accessed on 18 November 2019)
Karl Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst (1928) (2019) At: https://publicdomainreview.org/collections/karl-blossfeldts-urformen-der-kunst-1928/ (Accessed on 18 November 2019)
Long, J. (2016) Blossfeldt, Karl (1865–1932) – Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism. At: https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/blossfeldt-karl-1865-1932 (Accessed on 20 November 2019)
Murata, H. (s.d.) ‘Material Forms in Nature: The Photographs of Karl Blossfeldt’ At: https://www.moma.org/interactives/objectphoto/assets/essays/Murata.pdf
Murray, P. and Murray, L. (1997) The Penguin dictionary of art and artists (7th Edition). London: Penguin Books.
Stepan, P. (1999) Icons of photography: the 20th century. Munich: Prestel Pub.
Tate (s.d.) The New Vision – Art Term | Tate. At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/t/new-vision (Accessed on 20 November 2019)
I was taken by this phrase when shopping in the supermarket, it was being applied to fruit and vegetables that were perfectly good to eat but were a bit misshapen. It set me wondering about some of the flower images I had seen in my background reading for this module.
Irving Penn started taking photos of flowers in 1967, as part of an assignment for the cover of Vogue magazine. Each year until 1974 he produced images of flowers, restricting himself to a single variety each time. He did not choose a prime specimen on every occasion, “He said he was drawn to flowers ‘considerably after they’ve passed the point of perfection’, captivated by their blemishes and shrivelling petals” (Smart & Jones 2019). In Single Oriental Poppy, New York, 1968 there is barely a petal left on display, it is more a study in form and tones than any traditional flower image.
Penn’s images aren’t just a photograph of a flower, “His apparently simplistic compositions are void of sentimentality and focus on the detail, form and wonder of each specimen” (Roberts 2015). In the same way as Karl Blossfeldt did in the early part of the century, Penn isolated each specimen against a plain background, to concentrate attention solely on the form and hues of each flower. Unlike Blossfeldt, he used subtle lighting to accentuate form and detail.
Whereas Penn chose to photograph flowers that ranged from almost perfect condition to those that were almost decayed, in The Polaroid Flowers http://www.rushcreekeditions.com/enos/enos-master.php Chris Enos produced a series of large polaroid prints that were very much at the decaying end of the spectrum. Her studies were mainly closely cropped images of the flower head with little, if any, background showing. Where backgrounds were used, they were uniformly black. I have only been able to study much of Enos’ work online, although a couple of images appear in books I have researched. To me they seem ‘darker’ than the photos of Irving Penn, perhaps the concentration on the decaying forms in the closeups gives a ‘morbid’ element to the image.
I have produced some images of my own in a Little Less than Perfect series. At the moment there are just a few but I intend to add to them as the course progresses. I have tried to select flowers that are past their peak, but at various stages. Like Enos I have photographed them against a black background, but unlike her and more like Penn, I have not cropped too closely, in most cases showing the whole flower head. The key to me was in the selection of the flower, choosing blooms that are interesting for the shapes, forms or colours displayed. I will be interested to see how this project develops.
Campany, D. (2015) Irving Penn’s Flowers At: https://davidcampany.com/irving-penns-flowers/ (Accessed on 28 November 2019)
Ellison, J. (2015) Flowers and the power of a single stem In: Financial Times 20 November 2015 [online] At: https://www.ft.com/content/e98cf6ca-8d3a-11e5-a549-b89a1dfede9b (Accessed on 28 November 2019)
Rigg, N. (2015) The Verdant Legacy of Irving Penn’s Flowers. At: https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/8062/the-verdant-legacy-of-irving-penns-flowers (Accessed on 29 June 2019)
Roberts, J. (2015) Irving Penn’s Unsentimental Flowers. At: https://medium.com/vantage/ai-ap-pro-photo-daily-exhibitions-penn-s-unsentimental-flowers-dd5dad8e82c2 (Accessed on 28 November 2019)
Smart, A. and Jones, R. (2019) How Irving Penn ‘changed the way people saw the world’. At: https://www.christies.com/features/Guide-to-Irving-Penn-9751-1.aspx (Accessed on 28 November 2019)
Identification of Creative Method & Development of
form will creative output take?
At this stage of the process I envisage that
the main the creative output will be photographic images. In my early reading
for the topic I have looked at images of flowers from cyanotypes, collotypes,
collagraph, B&W and colour photographs. I feel studying the differing
effects that different processes have may well influence my own practice.
does your theme impact upon your working method?
My chosen theme is images of flowers and the
threats that they face. This will differ from traditional flower images in that
to illustrate both the flowers and threats may require multiple images and/or a
combination of media. In my Photography 2: Landscape module I wrote a critical
essay on photomontage and I could build on the knowledge I gained there. I shall, therefore, also need to
investigate other techniques.
contemporary creative artists influence you?
I am interested in the work of Jeff Wall,
particularly the many references in his work to great painters of the past.
Generally I am interested in the influences within and between different art
forms, in particular the mutual influences between photography and other art
forms. In terms of my own influences, I think that the work that I do for my
Level 3: Research module, where I will be looking at images of flowers from
Japan and the West, will have considerable influence on my own photographic