The Iris

Growing up in Europe in the early nineteen-fifties, art, music, and religion were taught on Saturday. I remember art would focus on being able to draw geographical maps, followed by botanical illustrations and then city or landscapes. The medium employed for maps was India ink with coloured pencils or occasionally just some watercolour, whereas botanical drawings were in pencil with watercolour, based on the traditional methods dating back to the herbal handbooks of the Middle Ages and European Renaissance.

The training received in Germany has stayed with me not only in the way I approach drawing or painting a botanical subject matter, but also in the course of photographing a single flower, when I set about the subject matter by balancing the scientific view with an artistic presentation.

There have been other major influences, in particular the books I have collected over the years on the history of herbal and botanical illustration, including the art books focusing on the Dutch and Flemish Golden Age when painting floral arrangements was at its height.

Golden Galore, Iris

Digital duo-tone, 2007

Another major source of influence for me, came from a small publication by the German Photographer Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932), who captured several thousand photogravures over a thirty-year period with the purpose of not just documenting various plants but also with the intended that they serve as guides for industrial designers and art students to demonstrate the structure and the beauty inherent in plant form.

These highly stylized photogravures with their soft and warm earthy tones have a magical quality that is very seductive, especially to anyone partial to early photographic exploits and the romance associated with it. Though I have undertaken several projects of photographing flowers, it has always involved colour and never having the end result be a Black & White or duo-tone print.

When asked if we have a favorite flower, I am sure we will have an answer, as for me there are several, a distant fourth are tulips, especially the parrot strain, then the English garden rose we find climbing trestles in a British countryside garden, followed by second place, the German Bearded Iris. My all time favorite the Peony, a flower that sadly has not taken hold in my garden.

Incognita, Iris

Digital duo-tone, 2007

On the other hand you will find the front yard hillside covered in various species of iris, some which our neighbor presented us when he terraced a section in his back yard a few years ago. Since then I have almost every year purchased a dozen different species then planting them between the blue clusters in order to break up their colour dominance.

This year again I missed my chance, by the time I thought about it the nursery had sold out and this was also the second year in which I did not photograph any of the blooms, even though there was one spectacular specimen that is only a memory now. That particular species had exceptional colour and it was flawless, yet I have always believed that showing only floral perfection was short sighted, as there is also beauty in a blemish or even a decaying flower, which makes it unique from the rest. The same goes for converting a colour photograph to a black and white so that the focus might be not on the flowers exceptional colours, but rather on the textural qualities we seem to otherwise miss.


Trudi Sissons said...

Oh the bearded iris, and the parrot tulip...most definitely in my top 10 - I'd add in the sweet pea, the passion flower and the Casablanca Lily although I'm influenced by the scents of the sweet pea and Lily. Does one ever tire of photographing these jewels? Have you painted any flowers?
Beautiful B&W - lovely values.

india said...

i see we share some favourites...sadly the south australian climate isn't at all conducive to growing paeonies
i know of
at least one place in California where they flourish
April-May in the Filoli gardens [near Woodside, south of SF] usually brings forth an abundance of them