Flowers and Portraits
My photographs in high school came out of my walks through my hometown of Salt Lake City. I would go to a new neighborhood each weekend, usually alone although sometimes with my friend Chris. This generated my suburban riff on the urban landscape. For my junior and senior years in high school, this became my main project. It still defines my way of photographing today--I will always reach for a camera when I step out the door.
But even then, I played a little bit with still lifes and portraits. As I got older, I explored portraits a little bit, yet I never felt comfortable. Whose picture would I take? This question dogged me.
Then, one summer, my wife (then girlfriend) gifted me a set of macro tubes. I found myself taking lots of pictures of flowers: flowers in the yard, flowers in the park, flowers at the local tulip festival. My father, who is primarily a landscape photographer, and I started going out together. We were going to our local tulip festival and local botanical garden whenever we could. We had a ton of fun composing and focusing, then recomposing and refocusing. Often all the hunching and kneeling that goes along with outdoor macro work is uncomfortable. Unfortunately, some stranger stole my father's kneepad while we were at the tulip festival. It was never seen again.
On a lark, I entered into our local tulip festival's photo contest. I ultimately won with the following photo:
As I took this photograph through post, I began to see it as a sort of portrait. The play of light on a round surface, combined with our sentimental attachments to faces and flowers, strengthens this analogy. Of course, I was primed to see these flowers this way given my existing interest in portraits. This perspective on flower photography permeates my photographs of flowers. Some are portraits of single flowers, some are pictures of groups.
This way of seeing also reminds me that my flowers project was first meant to be a transitional project on my way to taking more portraits of people. I'm still surprised when I look at my portfolio and see so few faces. The human face is one of my favorite subjects in visual arts: no matter whether we're talking about Avedon photographs, baroque paintings, renaissance sculptures or New Wave cinematic close-ups. Human faces simply drip with expression.
I do think that the flowers project stands on its own fairly well, and I'm happy with all the things I learned about background, lighting, and macro. It has also given me the confidence to go out and take photos of people.
Since quarantine began, I've taken quite a few photographs of my wife. This has been a lot of fun, especially for me. I just need to keep trying and continue to take pictures of people. The first step will be to find more subjects (please volunteer, dear reader, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org), and this may for now require me to take some self-portraits. Sounds like a challenge, which is just what I've been waiting all these years to undertake.