The second project in Part Five is about conceptual photography which is described and defined in a number of ways. The FiP Course Handbook (2014) explains it is “…to do with hunches and entering a process where you don’t really know what the outcome will be and you take photographs that attempt to document that process.” This is the first of two posts. In the second I will present the arrangement of prints asked for in the exercise together with an exploration of other photographic work using flowers as subjects.
The Tate defines conceptual photography as “..photography that illustrates an idea” (Tate 2018) and describes the historical development and diversification of conceptual photography over more that 100 years.
Exploring the photographers cited by the Tate I was absorbed by the work of John Hilliard and in particular “Camera Recording its own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors)”, that is described in the following way:
“The central image in this work, visible in varying degrees across seventy black and white photographs, arrayed in ten rows of seven across, is the artist’s camera, an East German made Praktica. The camera, which is operated by Hilliard, is reflected in two mirrors, the larger of which presents a reversed image of the subject. Hilliard also holds up a smaller mirror which reflects and makes legible the camera’s setting and controls. The variables governing the making of the work are indicated by the second part of its title, ‘7 apertures, 10 speeds, 2 mirrors’ – the camera has become both the subject and object of the work, in that the seventy photographs show the images resulting from all combinations of aperture size and shutter speed in that camera. Across a diagonal axis, where the exposures are ‘correct’, it is possible to read the camera settings which produced each image. Where the photographs have been sequentially over or under-exposed, the next reading can usually be logically inferred.” (Hilliard, John; 1971, Tate),
The resultant art work is a grid of 70 sequential images that are precisely aligned to form a new image of geometric design with a diagonal gradient of light that falls from overwhelming brightness to darkness. This approach conceptualises the use of the camera in an entirely new way, as an artistic tool in its own right. The resultant composite grid of the images is more than the mere sum of the individual parts and a story emerges that requires individual interpretation.
Hilliard worked with film to create art works developed from his ideas. Digital photography allows for a greater range and diversity as photographs are altered, manipulated, merged, layered and overlaid using post processing software.
In looking ahead to exercise 5.5 I decided to use the tulip as the basis of my study and before commencing the requirements of the exercise took photographs of a single tulip using different exposures and post processing to develop a sequence passing from lightness to darkness as influenced by Hilliard.
A TULIP SEEN IN DIFFERENT LIGHT
With this small experiment in mind I commenced the formal exercise.
Exercise 5.5 What is a flower?
This exercise asks that we choose a flower that we observe and photograph over a period of time to create a collection of visual connotations about symbolic and metaphorical associations. The series to be supported by a formal definition or description of a flower.
I chose to photograph tulips due to my passion for growing them and therefore their availability at the time I took the photographs. So many indeed (nearly 800) that I have left them to rest awhile before proceeding.
The first part of the exercise asks for a formal description of a flower. Flowers are plant structures involved in sexual reproduction. Tulips are a form of angiosperm flower, a complete or perfect flower that is bisexual, having both androececium or male parts – stamens, and female parts known as gynoececium – stigma, style and ovary. In addition there are sepals and petals that are decorative only, but important in attracting insects that act as pollinators, facilitating the reproductive process and the continuation of the genus over time. A www search for ‘flower diagram’ reveals a plethora of examples of the reproductive system of a flower. The diagram below provides an illustration of the form of an angiosperm flower (codyolserbiology.weebly.co: accessed 10.06.18)
Tulips form a genus or perennial herbivorous bulbiferous geophytes (that store food, and allow year on year repeat flowering of the same colour and shape as the original flower). Tulips may also be grown from seed by allowing the seed pod of a tulip that has finished flowering to dry out and undergo a period of cold prior to extracting the seed and sowing. The germination of the seed and growth of the young plant takes several years to mature to the point that it is able to produce a flower that may bear no resemblance to the parent. This factual, biological description of the tulip fails to reach the visual, symbolic and metaphorical connotations developed by artists and fine art photographers .
The word tulip, like the cultivated tulip plant itself, has its origins in the Middle East. The tulip figures frequently in Persian verse, where its red color evokes the blood of martyrs and the fire of love, and in Turkey, tulips are associated with the delicate refinement and luxury that characterized the Ottoman Empire at the height of itspower. (www.thefreedictionary.com). Tulips are associated with spring and love, and formed the subject of two centuries of the genre of Dutch flower painting that is said to have commenced with Jan Breughel the Elder in the early 17th Century (bbc.com 2016).
Following the rise and decline of a tulip flower illustrates the function of an angiosperm flower as it forms and reforms in a constant cycle of renewal and regeneration. I set out to photograph this event using the specific guidance for the exercise without knowing exactly where it would lead.
A macro photograph of the tulip in vibrant full bloom shot against a neutral background.
I chose two, the first whilst in a vase, the second in the garden.
TULIP IN FLOWER
A photographic record of the sequence of pulling apart the tulip.
I have photographed the natural and beautiful process of decline in the garden for this part of the exercise.
TULIP IN DECLINE
Together with a photographs of the gradual petal fall of tulips in a jar in the house.
Another perspective is achieved by photographing fallen tulip petals in water.
TULIP FALL IN WATER
An example of other subjects in the same form and colours of the tulip.
I selected favourite knitted silk scarves with some of the multicolours of tulips together with two tulip shaped wine glasses. The colour blue features here. I have yet to grow a blue tulip, but they exist, so here we have aspiration for next spring.
THE COLOURS OF TULIPS
Individual images of each part of the tulip whilst vibrant and in decline against a white or black background.
I experimented on a number occasions with a number of tulips in both wet and dry weather for this part of the exercise. I wanted to use the exercise to develop my macro photography skills using a white and black background. I used a number of different tulips and of different colours. Over a period of days I took over 700 photographs and then left them, returning after a month or more to edit down to the following contact sheets:
Printing the photographs as small prints and arranging them in a grid or pattern with the dictionary definition. Then to photograph this arrangement.
I have prepared the small size prints and await their arrival. A second post will complete this part of the project and will include reflection on the project as a whole.
Comments and critique welcome
Sooke, Alastair; Tulips and art BBC Tulip mania:the flowers that cost more than houses ‘ 3 May 2016; State of the Art-Contemporary Art-Art history/bbc.com ( accessed 6/6/2018)
Diagram of a flower; codyolserbiology.weebly.co (accessed 10.06.18)