| Flower Portraits |
By Joyce Tenneson
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The mystery and evocative power of flowers have been a secret world I have always wanted to penetrate. As a portrait photographer, I see flowers not as mere decorations, but as distinct personalities. Before I do human portraits, I try to learn as much as I can about my subjects, so when I begin the photo session, I have a sense of their history. I try to open myself to their universeto discover some inner essence that helps crystallize their uniqueness. I photograph flowers with the same respect.
In my last book, Wise Women, I focused on photographing women in the third phase of their life. I had no idea what I would uncover when I embarked on that journey. After interviewing and photographing more than three hundred subjects, I was overwhelmed by what I found. Rather than the negative stereotypes that our culture has fostered, I found these women to be often more radiant, beautiful, and exquisitely individual than ever before. The response to Wise Women has been richly gratifying to me. It is as if I had helped unearth a treasure that people, including myself, had been unaware of before.
As a way of refreshing myself after such a consuming project, I went back to photographing flowers. I had been drawn to this subject often between my other book projects, all of which had involved photographing people. However, just as my awareness had been alerted and changed by the beauty of human aging, so my approach to photographing flowers changed as well this time around. I was no longer only interested in the perfect bloom: the moment, often ephemeral, of youth. I became mesmerized by how each flower changes over time, and is often equally beautiful as it completes the inevitable life cycle of birth, blossoming, and seeming decline. I attempted in this series of flower portraits to convey my own excitement at the discovery of this rich visual metamorphosis. I photographed each flower throughout the entire life cycle. What I found amazed me. I woke up each day filled with curiosity for this whole mysterious universe. By carefully preserving the flowers, I was able to observe and photograph them over time. Flowers remind us of the interconnectedness of all life. Through observing my subjects, I saw wisdom and beauty with new eyes.
The ephemeral nature of flowers has often been used as a metaphor for the human condition. In the myths of every culture we see that nothing remains constant. Aging, ripeness, and death are all parts of lifedifferent exhalations along the labyrinth of existence. In his hauntingly beautiful description of the death of a friend's baby daughter, John Milton writes:
O fairest flower no sooner blown but blasted;
Soft, silken, primrose fading timelessly
It's much rarer, though, to find flowers compared to people and to see them endowed with the personality and magnetism they deserve. If instead of mourning the passing of time, we focused on the beauty of each moment within that passing, we might learn new thingsthe personality in each blossom, for instance, the unique expression in the face of each flower, at every stage of its journey. I hope you find the same secret delights and fascinating individuals in these flower portraits as I did. It has been an amazing voyage for me.
Excerpted from Flower Portraits , by Joyce Tenneson . Copyright (c) 2003 by Joyce Tenneson . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top