When Flowers Fight Against the Dark

Most of the photographs I take illustrate relationships between flowers as they decay. I find it moving. 

In this case I re-edited the picture after losing a very important relationship. I brought out a lot more of the detail not because I wanted to improve the appearance but because I felt the detail had been missed in the relationship, if that makes sense.

I have a yearning for the beauty of relationships and yet they are also contentious. This picture captures that for me perfectly. There is entanglement and anger, extraordinary colours along with a sense that darkness is closing in. A friend once said that ultimately all men are alone. Women perhaps not because of their natural bias to sociability.

Anyway, sad day but powerful image full of the expression that often goes unspoken.

Flowers as Original Art

My interest in flowers coincided with a project I was doing on colour. I’d been advising a photographic company and became interested in how arbitrary colour can be in photo post-production. 

I’d already been doing some work on the origins of our sense of colour. Humans have an insatiable need of it. I began reading about flowers and their role as the original colour palette for humanity.

Flowers would have been a major source of colour before pigment industries evolved. 

I think therefore humans would have used colour as classification systems, almost the original form of categorisation and intelligence, drawing on what they saw in the flower and plant universe.

They would have used flowers and plant colours to describe the world. Homer’s wine dark sea for example.

The interpretation of the world would have begun with the colours, shades and meaning of night and day, twilight and dawn. 

Colour as a form of intelligence would have embraced seasons obviously, drawing on what flowers and how:  blossom,  bloom and fruit; adding in experiences like rain and drought and how these affected plant life; contrasts like ochre, mud, dryness and starvation. 

I want to express those experiences through flower photography by bringing in some appreciation of age, decay and life. 

I also think this art has to retain an arbitrary element. I don’t arrange flowers beyond simple placement here and there. And when I arrange it is usually with an eye to keeping some imperfection, a lack of symmetry to remind myself that knowledge is never perfect.

How The Flower Project Began

Sat at the computer in early 2016 my eye began to swell. It hasn’t stopped since. On that particular day I was working on some economic data relating to bank disruption factors.  

My first reaction to the swelling was to concentrate harder on the screen but the more I concentrated, the more the eye socket swelled. 

It got to the point where I had to hold the eye open with two fingers so I could carry on reading.

This kind of dedication is in my nature. I have learned it is not a good thing.

Eventually, the swelling shut my right eye altogether. I read and write for a living and so being distraught I was also angry at not being able to carry on, despite the pain.

My left is scarred with acid burns from an old viral injury.

My brain continued to prioritise data coming through the swollen eye and as a result I could barely see.

I have gone through many days and nights like that, a huge amount of pressure bearing down on the eyeball, fractured light entering into the eye nesting in a swollen eye socket. 

The problem got worse through 2017 and then again all the way up 2019 until it began to settle into a lower level pattern. It flared up again in  2020.

At peak misery it flared up every 8 days, took three days to max out and decline and gradually became a permanent swelling in the eye socket, driven by inflammation and auto-immune response. pushing the eye down and out.

At the worst point in these cycles, mid way through 2017, I felt I had to do something to express my joy at having my sight. Three days a week my vision was in doubt. I had no idea where the problem would go, despite monthly hospital visits and a raft of diagnostics tests.

One fact I learned about people with eye problems is they hide away. I did that. I hid in my house while the eye swelled and while my vision was compromised.

On the first day I could see properly, I’d go down to the local flower shop and buy as much as I could afford. The flowers brightened up my living room and my life.

But then I had to throw them away. 

The desire to celebrate my sight and the sadness at throwing these joyful flowers away inspired me to buy a camera. 

The Flower Project started there.

During this period I made a trip to Laikipia in Kenya, East Africa. Driving over the crest of a hill in a fairly remote spot, my son and I came across a vast flower farm. Ironically it was in a continuous plastic tent.

Laikipia is on the equator. Water is scarce. But here is one of the largest flower growing areas in the world. 

Flowers are essential for local employment. I don’t want to argue against the flowers. In fact this area has a number of fair trade producers.

But this region is subject to increasing armed conflict because pastoralists are being shut out of grazing land. That conflict is becoming more ideological, embracing Muslim radicalism.  

In Phase 2 of the Flower Project I want to address these issues. But this is Phase 1 and for now I want to celebrate beauty. Maybe you’d join me.

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