Karl Blossfeldt’s photographs of plants, flowers and seed heads are as appealing today, as they no doubt were when they were published in his books Urformen der Kunst and Wundergarten der Natur. While Henry Fox-Talbot’s calotypes and the cyanotypes of Anna Atkins and pioneered the use of botanical specimens as photographic subjects, Blossfeldt’s work was unique in its pioneering use macrophotography emphasising the patterns and textures of plants.
Blossfeldt wrote in Urformen der Kunst that he never obtained his plants from florists and rarely from botanical gardens instead gathering them from along country lanes preferring plants often denigrated as weeds as he found their forms fascinated him the most. For this project, these seedbeds have come from our own garden, including some that might be considered weeds!
The images I’ve been taking of seed heads are all shot as jpegs, using FujiFilm’s Acros film simulation and in-camera processing that mainly entails boosting the shadow tones to around +2 and the highlight tones to +1 with a very slight warming of the resulting jpeg.
We are incredibly fortunate when it comes to accessing plants for photography today. This is a series of images from the Eden Project in Cornwall, UK, possibly one of the most remarkable collection of plants anywhere bringing the botanic gardens and palm houses built by Victorian plant hunters well and truly into the 21st century. I’m particularly interested in creating relatively minimalist images of plants that capture their variety of form and the way in which they interact with light. Eden offers scale when it comes to plants that is rarely available even in large botanic gardens and the shear number of plants makes finding photographic subjects much more feasible. The images in this portfolio are all from the rainforest biome with plants from four of the world’s rainforest environments: Tropical Islands, Southeast Asia, West Africa and Tropical South America.
Calke Abbey in Derbyshire has the sense of a place that was once a hive of activity, but that has since diminished almost to the point of being on the verge of collapse in places. What’s more it’s kept that way deliberately by the National Trust, repaired but not restored. As such, it has the feel of a place that has been little touched in over a century and it is a veritable photographic gold mine as you walk from the ground floor to the upper floor moving progressively from dishevelment to decay.
It’s certainly not without a photographic challenge or two, mainly light levels! Even with the high ISO abilities of modern digital cameras finding enough light can be extremely difficult, particularly in some of the long dark corridors in its East wing. Tripods are not an option so fast lenses and image stabilisation are your best friend.
However, find a window in one of the many small rooms and almost inevitably there will be something worth photographing. This really is a place to photograph details, the dilapidated state of the upstairs rooms being particularly photogenic, some piled with items, though the huge collection of taxidermy is probably not to everyone’s taste, but it is a reflection of 19th century values.
The quirkiness of the place is a constant source of inspiration, and occasional humour – I recall the look of disappointment on a fellow visitor’s face who had rather impolitely forced his way past me, presumably thinking I was photographing a particularly interesting object, only to discover all there was to see was a broken glass bottle and rusting lantern. Still, I liked it!
Light, while hard to find at times, does seep through the shuttered windows and every now and then falls on an exquisite piece of furniture or one of the many hundreds of objects that litter the house or something left abandoned many, many years ago.
The engine room at Papplewick Pumping Station near Nottingham. Spent a wonderful couple of hours there photographing the magnificent beam engines and boiler house at this preserved piece of industrial heritage. These buildings were not built as public buildings and for decades few saw the design and detail that went into their construction. Papplewick, in particular, has a wonderful symmetry to its design, a symmetry that repeats over the three levels of the engine house and even into the more utilitarian boiler house with its six symmetrically arranged coal boilers.