Since antiquity, flowers have been deeply appreciated for their myriad forms and colours, their seductive fragrances, their utility in commerce and medicine, their decorative attributes, and their emblematic and symbolic power.
Artists are no exception to this profound attachment. We find flowers everywhere in art, beginning with Paleolithic rock carvings, later with hieroglyphs and mosaics, and later again in paintings, drawings and prints — not to mention their profuse use as decorative motifs in an astonishing variety of materials, from durable stone carvings to the most delicate fabrics.
For the past two centuries, flowers have also bloomed in the fields of photography ! From the very first flower images by Henry Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins in the 1830s, through Man Ray’s, Karl Blossfeldt’s and Imogen Cunningham’s iconic imagery of the 1930s, to the sensual arrangements by Irving Penn, Duane Michals, Sally Mann and Robert Mapplethorpe in the 1970s and 1980s, and to the latest floral studies by well-known contemporaries, magnificent flower photographs are to be found in every period of photographic history, in every movement and in every genre : from documentary and street photography (found flowers), through elaborately arranged flowers in studio work ; from modernism through minimalism, in abstraction and realism, in collage, montage, and a host of experimental approaches. We find flowers in the field of fashion, in portraits and nudes, in landscape practice, and of course in the highly evolved field of botany, but also in conceptual and even political works. Amateur photography also provides a massive field of floral imagery, shared daily by millions via social media.
Flora Imaginaria offers a spectacular bouquet of flower imagery drawn from these sources, made over the past three decades (1990 – 2020).
The exhibition follows a similarly named one of 30 years ago (Flora Photographica), shown first at the Serpentine Gallery in London and subsequently seen in New York, Edinburgh, Toronto, Manchester, Montreal and Vancover.
The extensive tour (and many excellent reviews available on demand) are clear proof of the subject’s popularity.