"…was it not the late Ryszard Kapuscinski, in his magnificent book on the Shah, who realised why Iranians made such beautiful carpets. They wove birds with splendidly coloured wings on to silken trees and rivers and blossom-covered branches. And they would throw their carpets to the ground, creating a garden in the desert.”
Using the idea of the ‘instant garden’ created when a richly floral carpet was thrown to the ground in ancient Persia, I create a new kind of ‘garden’ using composite images of industrially grown flowers. The result is a product of a slow, ponderous process of assembling ‘pieces’. The soft lighting, reminiscent of Dutch Still Life paintings, is used to enhance a sense of distance and deep space as the “real” flower is converted through software into the flower symbol found in many ancient decorative arts.
‘Floriculture’ is an attempt to bridge the ‘hand-made’ elements of highly detailed and painstakingly constructed crafts (needlework, lace making, quilts, crochet, etc. ) with the techniques of digital manipulation and construction that have emerged with new twenty-first century photographic software.
So ‘Floriculture’ plays with ideas around control and stylization that have been present in discussions of ‘nature’ for centuries. This work sits in the uncomfortable space between the aestheticization and the exploitation of nature, offering not conclusions, but suggestions about ‘making’ rather than ‘shooting’ and a new relationship between ancient and modern that speaks to both.
The Instant Garden Editions
Kodak Endura paper
Available in 12” x 12” or 40” x 40”
Exbury: The Rothschild Nerines
The Exbury Nerines
I've always loved the quote from Joyce's Ulysees, "There's nothing new under the sun". There is, in fact, so little in the world that is genuinely 'new'. So what a joy it was to document and witness the unfolding drama of the Rothchild nerines collection this autumn. In a greenhouse the size of a large field, thousands of bulbs sit dormant, sometimes for decades at a time. Then every year some of them send up shoots with astounding blooms. Unlike any other flower head I've seen, these blooms actually dazzle. The structure of their cells is multi-directional, creating what looks like glitter on the surface of their petals.
With more nerines at Exbury than in the rest of the world put together, the possibilities for innovation are limitless: cross pollination happens randomly and the results, sometimes only visible years later are a wonder. New varieties are born yearly, each with its own name and place.
My job at Exbury was to collect images for a forthcoming commission based on my Floriculture series for Lionel de Rothschild, one of four siblings who live on the estate and manage Exbury Gardens, which are open to the public. I set up a studio in the Exbury estate offices and went on a daily survey in the greenhouse to see which flowers had bloomed in the night. The colours range from whites and light pinks to deepest purples through fuschias, oranges and violets. Sometimes colours are combined in fantastical arrangements. Every day was a dose of colour therapy as I walked between rows of abundant blooms.
The studio was an informal affair - three studio lights and a Hasselblad camera. I used the exact same lighting set up as for the original Floriculture peices from The Instant Garden series. Flowers were shot from budding to drooping. At times the pollen in the studio got a little overwhelming and at one point an emergency run to the chemist for nasal spray was required!
About Nerines The nerine collection was started by Lionel's grandfather, Lionel de Rothschild (1882-1942), between the wars. They are hybrids of Nerine sarniensis. Quite a few were only named after the war by his father (Edmund) and he continued with some breeding into the '50s. He sold the collection to a nursery, Blackmore & Langdon, in 1972 and they in turn sold it on in 1974. It was at this stage that the collection was split up: some went to RHS Wisley, some to Ambrose Congreve in Ireland (Ambrose created a wonderful garden in Ireland inspired by Lionel and has only relatively recently died, aged 104) and some went to Sir Peter Smithers in Switzerland.
Peter was a remarkable man, a spy, an MP, a diplomat, scholarly (a ph.d. on Addison), a photographer (5' x 4' photographs of his flowers taken with a (5" x 4") plate camera) and above all a gardener. He created a beautiful garden at Lake Lugano, Villa Morcote. His book, 'Adventures of a Gardener' is available on abebooks.com He bred the collection on in a rigorous programme and the Rothschilds at Exbury bought it back, very much with his blessing, in 1995.
While there were a few of the old plants, most of the plants they acquired at this time were his creation using Lionel de Rothschild's grandfather's. Since then, the collection has grown, partly because bulbs create more bulbs and partly because they cross-pollinate a lot so there have been new plants. The new nerines are arranged them in an artistic display each autumn in the Five Arrows Gallery in the gardens for the public to enjoy.
If you'd like to visit the gardens, Autumn and Spring are a great time to do so.
When a new bloom appears it is given a number. Should more of this bloom appear in subsequent years, it is named.
Named after the famous TV Gardening presenter
Named by in the shorthand of Beautiful, as expressed in South Africa
Named after a friend of the family
Named for it’s unusual orange glow. Probably the most orange of all the nerine varietes in the Exbury Collection.
Named after the daughter of a friend of the family.
Named after the intrepid Artic explorer.
Named after the South African bird.
Named after a family friend.
Named after an Austrian Rothschild estate
Named for its iridescent colour - reminiscent of dawn in the famous South African desert. Many of the desert-named recent variations have an iridescence previously unmatched within the collection.
A more violet version, answer to Khalahari Dawn (above)
Named after the great 18th Century South African king, founder of the Matabele Kingdom, Matabeleland, in what became British South Africa Company-ruled Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe.
Named after Nicholas David (Nick) de Rothschild, one of the four siblings currently responsible for the management of Exbury Gardens.
Named after the mile-and-a-half stretch of Sunset Boulevard that passes through West Hollywood, California, United States.
A currently unnamed new variety of nerine in the collection.
Another desert-named recent addition to the collection.
The story of the world begins with a garden. In Persia, carpets were thrown down in the desert to create an ‘instant garden’ in the sand. This idea of throwing down an instant garden in a desert encapsulates the relationship between humans and nature: our incredible creative ability to manipulate and magic nature out of nothing. The flowers are a mixture of generic, shop bought, hothouse bred varieties and other imposters from streets and gardens. Using techniques borrowed from Botanical Art, flowers are shot from all sides and in all states of budding to drooping.
In Europe, the Dutch Flower Painting tradition arose out of a particular set of circumstances during The Republic when painting was centred in Guilds. These paintings were for a domestic market, often purchased and produced by women. The tradition that emerged was both illusionistic and decorative, with an obsessive attention to detail that can be described as an ‘über-craft’: slow, ponderous, painstaking, illusion-making. The ‘decorative’ is traditionally associated with feminine crafts; needlework, lace making, quilts and crochet. This is a subject that has been closely interpreted and challenged by feminist art historians of the last thirty years.
For more than a century the camera has been used to “catch” or “shoot”. The final Floriculture images are the result of a slow, ponderous process of assembling ‘pieces’, rather than an instantaneous moment.