#1335. Defeating impermanence, a beauty lovefest.

By philberphoto | Art & Creativity

Jan 06

In 2013, the 850th anniversary of Notre-Dame, the legendary cathedral of Paris was celebrated. What better symbol of permanence? That it would always be there? We now know how wrong that was! As a photographer, I’d been inside and shot Notre-Dame many times, but never climbed its tower to take the iconic gargoyle-overlooking-Paris image. Not the right light. Too many people waiting in line. Not feeling like climbing hundreds of steps. Always a -bad- good reason. And then it wasn’t there any more. I swore that: never again! BTW, it should reopen, at least partly, at the very end of 2024, indicating that some “things” are indeed, against all odds, meant to be permanent.


Now what can be more different from a cathedral, than a flower? Except that the same principle applies. If you don’t shoot it today, maybe it won’t be there tomorrow. One day changes a flower beyond recognition. So a flower shooter should get rid of excuses pronto! Which means that, if you shoot flowers outside, meaning not in a controlled environment, you need to make do with what you have. Time, talent, gear, intent, you are on your own…


Here is one flower image that I like and so does Pascal J. To some extent it was a surprise, because in real life, and on the camera LCD, it didn’t look quite that good. So I thought, let’s go back for more on the very next day. I simply couldn’t find it again, or anything close to it. Let alone with the critter.


I don’t know if these 2 were there the next day, but what I know for sure is that they weren’t there the day before. Similarly, on my post reviewing the Laowa 58mm, there is a shot of a decrepit sports shoe. The photographer I was shooting with liked my image but thought he could do better, and came back to the spot. Gone.


Why are flower images such a special corner of photography? In miniscule homage to the immense writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, there are thousands of reasons, but I will spare you, and stick to 10.


First, because they are so impermanent, they are like a instant in time caught and frozen forever. As opposed to: not caught = lost forever. So let’s not let them be lost!


Second, because they incorporate so much beauty. Even minutes parts of flowers are beautiful beyond words, taking our breath away. Even decaying, rotting flowers house beauty beyond comprehension. And, whether one believes or not, all of us agree that beauty makes our world better, and is to be treasured.


Third, because, whereas landscape images, which are another form of paying tribute to nature’s beauty, aim at reproducing what the eye sees as faithfully as possible, a flower image is more artificial than almost all other photographic genres, save for technical manipulation. Flower images cannot capture the full depth of field necessary for all parts of the flower to be in focus, and thus incorporate bokeh. Bokeh, which is totally foreigh to the human eye and brain. So, while they are an ode and a paean to beauty, flower images also celebrate a feat of nature-and-man cooperation when they are created. There aren’t many cases of those around, so let’s cherish the ones we have.


Fourth, because flower images do not require explanations, or context, or maturity, or culture, to be enjoyed (IBS would have loved that one!)


Fifth, because flower images are for good. You can’t stick evil, or hatred, or violence on to them, and God knows we have so much of that, that flower images are all the more precious for it.


Sixth, because flowers mean love in so many countries. Offer flowers when you are invited, flowers when you love, flowers when you seek forgiveness, flowers for final goodbyes. Flowers for all reasons and all seasons. And flower images for all of them.


Seventh, because flowers and flower images are instant, natural, spontaneous. It took Da Vinci decades to bring Mona Lisa to where it is, and he was still working on it when he died. The very opposite of a flower image, and we are all the better off for having so many more of them than of Da Vinci paitings.


Eighth, because flower images are free, free to be taken, free of rights, free of regulations, free of cost, in free supply. If we love freedom, accessibility, abundance, flower images embody part of that too.


Ninth, because they are so easy to take. Where are there no flowers? Even in the concrete heart of cities, there are flower baskets, gardens, flower shops, parks. Even a minute flower growing unaided on the rim of a street, lost between two paving stones, can be so beautiful. Name any other photographic subject that matches that.


And tenth, without which it would not be truly a post of mine, because they are so d*mned hard to take, that any successful one is an exercise in vanity! Even the slightest breeze can kill not only a shot, but dozens of attempted shots. And, because flowers are mostly small, they need to be shot really close up, meaning there is only a minute spot from which the image will be absolutely right, and true, and gorgeous. Not for the in-a-constant-rush-and-hurry of the modern world. And all the more wonderful as a clean-your-mind-of-tension exercise. That it is so simple in its natural beauty doesn’t mean it is easy to achieve…


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  • Steve Mallett says:

    Gorgeous images Philippe. I have taken hundreds nay, thousands of flower shots and only a handful have I ever been satisfied with and none come close to yours. The daisy-like one below your First reason just demands to be looked at and then says, “No, really look at me, and keep looking!” Such perfection and we walk past millions of them.

    • philberphoto says:

      You are too kind, Steve! I just have a bit of trouble taking your words too litterally, because I for one look at your images, thinking how they are better than whatever I would do with the same scene.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Ah, Philippe, you’ve perfectly illustrated why images of flowers are so special with your ever-so-lovely photos. I could spend hours gazing upon them, discovering all the nuances and details that you captured. It really does pay to move slowly during the image capture, while being sure to seize the moment before the flower fades away. You are a romantic, dear sir! Kudos!

    • philberphoto says:

      Ah Nancee! Sorry, your Majesty, Nancee QoS! You are as immensely apt with words as you are with a camera. With the latter, you make anything look interesting and compelling, with the latter congratulating and flattering. Many thanks!

  • David Massolo says:

    Philippe what a great series of images. Many times I have come back to photograph a certain flower only to realise I missed it.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I KNEW it was Philippe, the moment the first image started to open on the screen!

    Perhaps I should tease you – “Flower images cannot capture the full depth of field necessary for all parts of the flower to be in focus” – not if you use a stack shot! – then you can choose how much or how little is going to be in focus!

    But who cares? Your first image isn’t sharp – you’re even saying so yourself – yet it caught my eye, arrested my attention and had me drooling over the image – simple as it is, it says so little, and yet it says so much! So what if it’s not “tack sharp”? I’m getting tired of all the pressure for “technical perfection”, dragging “real” photographers away from “creativity” and replacing “art” with “AI”. For the record – I detest “initialese” anyway, so I probably don’t even know what I’m talking about when I refer to things like “AI”.

    My mother was a mad gardener – she’d plant a 60 cm shrub and several years later, we’d have to cut it down and remove it, because it was all tangled up in the wires coming into the house from the electricity poles out in the street – she planted three different coloured hyacinths and with a year there was a bed of hyacinths running right round three sides of our tennis court – she planted a gum tree in the back yard and some time later it was the tallest tree in the district – I could see it from my office window in a tower building in the centre of the city, looking across the rest of the city centre, a 400 Ha park, one of our main hospitals, and the start of the suburb where the house was located! – and I have her first ever oil painting, a picture of a vase filled with flowers, on the wall beside me as I type this.

    It was inevitable that I would inherit her love of flowers and nature. And when we have the droughts, between your postings on DS, Philippe, I miss these images. So thank you for getting the year off to a fine start with these images. And no I don’t know which one I like best. I like ALL of them!

    • philberphoto says:

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Pete! I am so glad my images resonate with you and your family history. That is high praise indeed!

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Oh dear! Philippe, I keep coming back to this posting. To enjoy these images all over again. But this time, I tripped over my shoelaces. While I was scrolling down the screen, I suddenly realised something. And now I have to apologise to you Philippe. Because this is far from the first time I’ve come back here to look at all these images. But while I was doing it, I started to realise that this is the first time I’ve actually read all the text. Sorry sorry sorry – I only have on excuse, however pitiful – I got distracted, by all the photos of flowers!

        “flowers and flower images are instant, natural, spontaneous. It took Da Vinci decades to bring Mona Lisa to where it is, and he was still working on it when he died. The very opposite of a flower image, and we are all the better off for having so many more of them than of Da Vinci paitings.”

        I’ve mentioned this before on DS – sitting right next to me, on the wall between me and the kitchen, is my mother’s first attempt at an oil painting – a great big bunch of flowers, in a vase. I fell in love with it, the instant she brought it home from her art school class and showed it to me. And when she died, I hid it under the bed, so my brother couldn’t take it – I let him have whatever he wanted from the house, apart from that – but I was damned if I was going to let him have mother’s painting of flowers!

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    Lovely series, Philippe. A subject very close to my heart and beautifully handled.

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Always that very unique look of yours, Philippe… so easy to recognize, but as you say so difficult to achieve… we need more of this kind of “ethereal” photography!
    “Simply” beautiful!

    • philberphoto says:

      Ethereal photography…. hmmmmm…. I had thought flowers were quintessentially earthly, so maybe they are etherearthly…? Many thanks, Pascal!

  • Dallas says:

    Excellent flower images Philippe, I know how much effort and time you spend getting these flower shots keep it up.

    • philberphoto says:

      Many thanks, dear friend, but there are no prizes for effort, time, or for blodd sweat and tears for that matter… 🙂

  • Jon Maxim says:

    Hi Philippe, Thank you for the gorgeous images, so welcome – especially today. I have just returned from a visit to our local conservatory and have deleted all the flower shots. Seeing yours, it encourages me to try yet again. May I tell you a short(ish) story?

    My early days in photography were as an (unpaid) assistant to my father. I did it from my early teens to my early twenties. When I left home I went to another country and my parents gave me a Kodak box camera and a flash cube, and asked me to send them pictures of my new home. One of the first pictures I took was of a pretty flower bed. When I got it back from the lab I was so mesmerized and thrilled by what I was able to create that I haven’t stopped for over 50 years.

  • Ah Philippe you have done it again, again and yet again. Beautiful imagery and words to match. Someday I hope to meet you in Kyoto where we can photograph flowers and kimonos.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Some lovely flowers!
    And some of your 10 reasons seem to me to say that flower photography is meditative.
    You almost make me long for spring…

  • Paul Perton says:

    Philippe, how fortunate we are to be able to make such images and aspire to those we see and yearn to emulate.

    Some of us make it look easy, although if you’ve ever tried, you’ll know it isn’t. Perseverance, luck, dedication and of course, a camera able to do your plans justice.

    This is a fine collection, but I suspect a mere sample of your craft. Long may we continue to enjoy and envy them.

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