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Flowers in the Arts

Flowers in the Arts

Gardens of the Written Word: Popular Literature with Plants and Flowers in Their Title

July 23, 2014

From food to fashion, flowers have been prevalent in every aspect of culture and man-made creations, and literature is no exception.

flowers-in-literature-book-with-flowersPlants and Flowers in Literature:

“Flowers for Algernon,” Daniel Keyes

This classic American fictional short story follows the progress of Charlie, a man with a low IQ who undergoes an experimental surgery that turns him into a genius. The effects of the surgery are short-lived, yet the story he tells is one that will live on forever.
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Flowers in the Arts

Flower Photography in High-Def: An Interview With Filmmaker and Photographer Andrew Zuckerman

March 6, 2013
Peony Cultivar
Peony Cultivar

Image courtesy of Andrew Zuckerman

Here at Petal Talk, we live and breathe flowers in their every form. Whether we’re discovering new ways to decorate with fresh blossoms, creating our own DIY flowers or spotting our favorite blooms in works of art, flowers are what make us smile. So you can imagine the excitement we felt when we came across the newly released book Flower by filmmaker and photographer Andrew Zuckerman. His mesmerizing high-definition images capture flowers in all their glory, creating a vibrant bouquet of photographs that will take your breath away. We were so fascinated by Zuckerman’s flower photography that we just had to reach out to him personally and learn more about his inspiration. Here, Zuckerman himself gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how he brought his latest project to full bloom.

Throughout your career, you’ve photographed a variety of subjects: legendary artists, politicians, business and religious leaders, as well as birds and other wild animals. Why did you choose flowers as your most recent subject?

My interest in flowers was twofold, really. For one thing, since I began exploring the natural world with Creature, I found myself wanting to create a kind of collection of two-dimensional taxonomy, which I equate most immediately with turn of the century naturalist drawings. Flower was the next step in this process. In addition, I like to work with self-imposed constraints and I tend to be inspired by subjects that have been exhausted. Since flowers are one of the oldest subjects in art (their appearance dates back to ancient Egypt), they presented a unique challenge. I was really interested in divorcing the flowers from all their symbolic and metaphorical associations, as well as their ecological contexts, in order to reveal their essential qualities.

In your book Flower, you show intimate close-ups of 150 flower species. How many flower species did you shoot in total while working on the book? How did you select the final 150 images?

I shot around 250 species in total, all of which are included on the project’s microsite, I like to be pretty comprehensive once I start investigating a subject, and I work across a few platforms to create more points of entry into the work. So the projects will include films, a website, taxonomical index, and of course the book, which I consider as an object, so how all the images work together and flow from page to page is important. I usually start with my favorite images and go from there, making sure every image makes sense as part of the larger whole.

Peony Cultivar

Photo courtesy of Andrew Zuckerman

The bright colors of your flowers set against a sharp white background give your photos a surreal effect, putting an intense focus on the flowers themselves and nothing else. Why do you shoot your photos this way?

I find this reductive approach suits both my taxonomical impulses and my desire to reveal the essence of a subject.

Many of the exotic flower species you shot for your book aren’t the kinds of flowers you see every day. How did you collect them for your photo shoots?

We were very fortunate to have the support of amazing institutions like the New York Botanical Garden, the Smithsonian Institute, and Fairchild Tropical Garden. But I wanted the project to be a broad survey of the botanical world, so you’ll find a lot of New York City deli flowers mixed in with the incredibly rare orchids and tropicals.

Working at 1-800-Flowers, we know how delicate flowers are and how carefully they need to be handled. What would you say was the most difficult thing about working with such a perishable item?

I was actually surprised by how resilient they were! We work with very hot lights at the studio (and on location), and I expected the process to be much more delicate than it was. But we also handled them with care. We had coolers and water on hand, and we benefitted from working closely with the horticulturalists at many of the institutions. Continue Reading…

Flowers in the Arts

The Magic of Flowers in the Movies

May 29, 2012

“Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep,” the Wicked Witch of the West cackles in The Wizard of Oz. And put them to sleep the poppies certainly did. But how did the filmmakers put that field of poppies on the screen? Did they plant thousands of poppies in a field? Well, no. They made artificial poppies by the zillions and found a way to wire them to the stage floor, where Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion fell—uncomfortably, one imagines—to sleep among them.

No one would ever mistake Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors for a real flower. Audrey is, in its way, emblematic of the flowers in films, made of silk or plastic (plus, in Audrey’s case, foam and a lot of attitude). The topiary shrubberies in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland are equally unreal, and no one would expect them to be any different, any more than you’d expect the singing flowers in the Disney Alice to be real.
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Flowers in the Arts

A Flower in Your Hair from Billie Holiday to Effie Trinket

May 7, 2012

People have been wearing flowers in their hair since… well, perhaps since Eve spotted the first fig blossom and tucked it behind her ear.  It’s probably the oldest form of adornment in the world, and it’s a custom that’s found around the world too.  Asia, Polynesia, Europe, India—all over the world and for many centuries women, and for special occasions men too, have worn flowers in their hair.

A Flower in Your Hair!

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Flowers in the Arts

Flowers in Art: Sargent’s “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose”

April 25, 2012

Two little girls stand in a garden at dusk, intently lighting the candles in Chinese lanterns; lilies tower over them. Everything glows in this painting: the white dresses on the girls, the girls’ faces, the lanterns—and the lilies.
Sargent's Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose
This is Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, one of John Singer Sargent’s most beloved works. The title comes from a popular song in England of the 1880s, when the artist spent two summers working on the painting.

A garden scene might seem like an unlikely subject for a man best known for his portraits of Gilded Age society figures, portraits that now hang in museums from San Francisco to London, as well as in ducal mansions in Britain. (Though a closer looks reveals many flowers in those portraits, tucked into hats and hair and corsages and nosegays, so obviously he got plenty of practice.)
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