Let me say it out loud. I love flowers, and dislike — actually detest — most flower photography.
So many photographers, or just people with cameras, seem to have an almost sexual obsession with recording petals and pistils, as though copying something intrinsically beautiful will somehow make them good photographers. It’s a lot like taking snapshots of pretty people and claiming on that basis to be a fine portraitist, or capturing a holiday sunset and claiming to be a great landscape artist. If they add “you should have been there,” they’re missing the point.
Some time back in my more distant past, I presided over a prominent camera club in Northern California, and became increasingly disturbed by the sheer volume of botanical close-ups.
So much so, that I once entered a picture in competition and titled it Begonia #48. This created a kerfuffle when it won an award. The image was of a nearby construction site, devoid of botanicals. When asked to explain the title, I said it was in the spirit of the person who had titled his new novel No Drums, No Trumpets, because there were neither drums nor trumpets mentioned in the book. Maybe I should have called my picture Untitled #5,772, if that were not already taken.
My wife and I are grateful for the many floral gifts we have received. A friend once brought us a bouquet of white Calla lilies. She lived in the neighborhood and walked from her home. The shortest distance from her home to ours passes through a hillside cemetery, and for a moment we wondered how she had obtained them, but were relieved that there was no condolence card concealed among the stems.
Half a lifetime ago, before I was married, I had a girlfriend whose devotion to her church included supplying flowers for Sunday services. Her devotions began late each Saturday night, when, long after dark, she would scale the fences of neighbors, returning miraculously with splendid flowers in one hand, pruning shears in the other, and a flushed look of triumph, which I now suppose could have been religious ecstasy. The pastor was pleased, and Jesus must surely have forgiven, even on a regular, weekly basis. It was my first experience as an outsider (I’m Jewish) of flowers as the currency to purchase Protestant Indulgences.
So, this brings me to my main point.
An important feature of art is to offer alternative visions, processed through the mind of the artist. It is certainly not holding a Xerox copier to the world. Doing so requires a creative aspect, a decided squint of some level of human ingenuity, a notion of “This is how I see it.”
So let’s go back to the Calla lilies. Over a period of several years, I returned to my original simple photograph to see what magic I could do to make them truly mine. I tried color differences, proportional alterations, lighting and compositional changes, saturation, new backgrounds, even a new foreground, one fashioned from the bubbly lining of a lunch drink after I’d drained he glass. The images of these deathless flowers are now my own.
Time to move on. No more botanicals for a while. Or construction sites.
© Raphael Shevelev. All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint is granted provided the article, copyright and byline are printed intact, with all links visible and made live if distributed in electronic form.
Raphael Shevelev is a California based fine art photographer, digital artist and writer on the creative process. He is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. He is known for the experimental range of his art, and an aesthetic that emphasizes strong design, metaphor and story. His images can be seen and purchased at www.raphaelshevelev.com/galleries.