A Fresh Look at Flowers in Photography

Greg Stevens
Miriam Tölke, “Flower of Yesterday” (2019) (all images courtesy Thames & Hudson)

In the late 1830s, the Welsh botanist John Dillwyn Llewelyn began making photographs of orchids he’d grown at his home near Swansea. Llewelyn’s pictures are thought to be among the first to use the photographic process to identify plant specimens, though he himself found them lacking. “I have amused myself with making Daguerreotype [sic] portraits [of several flowers], and from their exact accuracy they are interesting,” he wrote in an 1842 letter to the director of London’s Kew Gardens, “though the want of color prevents them from being beautiful as pictures.”

Color appeared in photography some decades later, but the question remains: Can photographers capture the vitality of flowers compellingly, innovatively, and beautifully? A new book gives a resounding yes.

Flora Photographica: The Flower in Contemporary Photography by William A. Ewing and Danaé Panchaud (Thames & Hudson, 2022) features 200 photos taken over the past 30 years. The lavishly illustrated book follows its 1991 predecessor, which covered the period from 1835 to 1990. The newest edition features more than 120 artists from 30 countries working with digital and analog photography in a variety of modes, including performance, collage, and textiles. 

William A. Ewing and Danaé Panchaud, Flora Photographica: The Flower in Contemporary Photography (Thames & Hudson) (all images courtesy Thames & Hudson)

Some of the most provocative images come from artists who use flowers to take on today’s pressing political and social issues. In the book’s first photo, taken at the 2020 Belarus protests by the Polish photojournalist Jędrzej Nowicki, we see the hand of a demonstrator gripping a small bouquet of white flowers tied with white ribbon, the color of the opposition. “The Pansy Project” by Paul Harfleet documents single pansies that the artist plants at the site of homophobic abuse. And Thirza Schaap’s brightly-colored, modern-day vanitas “Plastic Ocean Series” features floral still lifes made of discarded waste, evoking what the artist calls “a sense of ecological grief.” 

Other photos are personal, documentary, and playful. Some of Ewing and Panchaud’s selections riff on the way flowers have been depicted in the past, while others push in new directions. Flowers are a well-worn subject matter in the history of art, appearing in human production well before Llewelyn’s snaps in the 19th century. This book shows that they remain a powerful springboard for visual experimentation and meaning.

Thirza Schaap, “Vanda” (2020),from the series Plastic Ocean (courtesy Bildhalle Zurich)
Abelardo Morell, “2016–Flowers for Lisa #30” (2016) (photo Abelardo Morell, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery)
Niki Simpson, “Lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor)” (2009) (© Niki Simpson)
Nadirah Zakariya, “All Purpose Flower: MCO Day 59” (2020) (courtesy the artist)
Pedro Almodóvar, “Depending on the Red Gerbera” (2019) (© Pedro Almodóvar)
Paul Cupido, “Indigo II”(2021) (courtesy Bildhalle)
Ann Mandelbaum, “Red Lily” (2000) (courtesy the artist)

The Latest

Required Reading

Required Reading

This week, a rise in nuclear fusion, the downfall of the “COVID billionaire,” holiday string lights with a twist, and how many people would actually return a lost wallet?

Pat Steir Accepts Time’s Passage With Grace

Pat Steir Accepts Time’s Passage With Grace

Steir’s work of the ’90s was the result of physically demanding processes. What happens when you cannot do what you once did?

Demolishing the Categories of Word and Image

An anthology of poems, fiction, and translated essays combined with images explores the role of memory and the visual.

Cézanne Self-Portrait, Hidden for 158 Years, Found Under a Still Life

The painting, discovered by a Cincinnati Museum of Art conservator, might be one of the Post-Impressionist painter’s first self-portraits.

MASS MoCA Workers Celebrate First Union Contract

Earlier this year, the union held a one-day strike over “lowball” wages and prolonged negotiations.

An Unconventional Grant That Lets Artists Pay it Forward 

The 15 initial winners of the Art Matters Foundation grant each choose another artist to receive the prize.

The Stirring Political Etchings of Nicolás De Jesús

The Mexican artist’s works reveal the radical possibilities of an indigenous sensibility charged with a keen awareness of politics and art history.

Wildfire Ash as a Medium

Meet the artists who use ash and residue from natural disasters to send an urgent message about the environmental calamity unfolding before us.

Only 8{f32667846e1257729eaaee80e922ba34a93c6414e9ad6261aff566c043b9e75d} of UK Artists Come From Working-Class Background 

A new study making waves in the UK finds that people from low-income backgrounds are less likely to become artists — but that’s always been the case.

Murals in LA Lift the Voices of Iranian Protesters

Murals by Iranian-American artists across the city are inescapable reminders of the regime’s ongoing brutality.

Next Post

How Agapanthus can benefit your garden

Agapanthus is as blue as a Sydney summer season sky and just as reputable (give or consider a la Nina yr). But this outdated backyard standby has a dim side: it is on the weed enjoy record in NSW, the place it has by now invaded bushland in the Blue […]
How Agapanthus can benefit your garden

You May Like