We’re all on the cusp of big changes because of COVID. Equally we wish COVID had never happened. The change I want to make in my life is to let more emotion in and maybe push a little more out there.
I’ve been working relentlessly for 40 years now and I come from that older tradition of men who get things done. No nonsense. When COVID hit, my reaction was to think, this will pass, so let’s just get on with things.
But after nearly 10 weeks of lockdown, the majority of it on my own, I began thinking again.
I see up ahead a retirement that is going to be impacted by fear, that it we get the disease in three or four years time we are the at risk group. That’s not what any of us expected when we ticked off each of those working years.
And I see a past that was less emotional and less connected to good people than it should have been.
I believe we need to express these conundrums in an artistic way. If you are from my kind of background then you tend to pass up the opportunity to be creative. That reaction needs putting in a box and sending down a fast flowing river.
We will all need more opportunities to express and create.
This flower on the left has been in my kitchen for a few days. It came as part of a bouquet mixing wild flowers and cultivated.
I am fascinated by the colour and the variety within it. I won’t be printing it off but I have enjoyed a couple of days of photographing it and looking at it enlarged.
In a few days now the bouquet will begin to wilt and I will get back to the original purpose of the Flow Project, capturing beauty in imperfection.
The image on the right, well I call that Asymmetry. I seek out that little edge of imperfection. That’s where interest and curiosity attract us.
I also think of my images as “lean in” images. As opposed to “pop out” images. I try not to make a photo pop. I want people to lean towards them.
What is your creative preference?
April and May have been incredible for me, waking up every day to lilies that are closed to the world and lilies that are opening up. I’ve been busy photographing them every day. I prefer to photograph in natural light but lilies being white are very reflective at most times of the day or evening. Generally I take the photos inside to get round that, but again just using what natural light is available.
Right now we are in COVID lockdown and maybe because of that I’ve been able to take more photos than usual as well as devote time to editing them.
Most of my edits are for light and background rather than the objects themselves. I’ve also begun writing poetry inspired by the flowers. It’s not something I’ve done before so I can’t say they are good poems but once I get better at it I will post them here. What I definitely find is that being around flowers gives me access to a lot of beauty and from beauty a sense of love I don’t have with my other work.
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.
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.
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.