"…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 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. Distinctive repetitive pattern features highly in Eastern architecture and interior design and is integral to this culture. In Celtic and Arabic decorative arts strong ties exist between the ‘real’ and the highly stylized ‘diagrammatic’ flowers within elaborate designs.
This idea of throwing down an instant garden in a desert seems to encapsulate something about the relationship between humans and nature: our incredible creative ability to manipulate and magic nature out of nothing. The flowers are all generic, shop bought, hothouse bred varieties. It is important that they are perfect specimens, as might have been found in the mythic Garden of Eden “before the fall”. The flowers are shot from all sides and in all states of budding to drooping.
Photographic techniques such as soft focus and hard edges create a sense of distance and deep space, as well as the illusion of depth. These images are then manipulated and assembled into a whole using digital software. This software turns a photographically “real” object into a pattern, which is repeated with sufficient randomness to create the illusion of a ‘real’ space that also mimics the compositional structure of Arabic carpets.
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. But the decorative is also a central element of non-western art, which has been similarly marginalized and excluded from the Western Art tradition.
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.
I see this work as readdressing the traditional relationship between photography and narrative. Rather than “shot”, this work is carefully “made”. My images are a product of a slow, ponderous process of assembling ‘pieces’, rather than an instantaneous moment.
For more than a century the camera has been used to “catch” or “shoot”. Now with new technologies, the nature of the “photographic” is changing rapidly from a truthful (indexical) impression of reality to a malleable plastic medium that is merging with moving image, animation, illustration, etc.
My work investigates the visual potential of combining the techniques of ‘über-crafts’ (slow, ponderous, painstaking, illusion-making) to a photographic image (immediate, present caught moment) to suggest a post-photographic function for photography. I am aiming to re-assert the validity and importance of the ‘handmade’ within the ongoing tradition of photography, challenging the popular idea that photography must be indexical, immediate and unmediated.