A Little Less than Perfect

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)

Chris Enos’ Polaroid Flowers: