FRAMED and BOOKED

…and photographed.

 

1.

 

2.

 

 

3.

 

4.

 

5.

 

6.

 

7.

 

8.

 

9.

 

10.

 

11.

 

 

12.

 

13.

 

14.

 

The story:

This is an ongoing project that I return to every now and then. It started about 14 years ago, when I had a garden and wanted to do something different with flower photography. One day I took a picture frame with a piece of white board inside it, and placed it behind a low-growing clump of flowers. I don’t remember how I propped the frame up but I did, and I made some photographs.  I also placed a blank book behind flowers and photographed the flowers against, or “in” the open blank book.  I liked the play of different levels of reality – a “real” flower, a photograph of a flower as if it was a picture in a book, and the overarching idea of removing a piece of nature from its environment to “capture” it, as one does in a flower painting, or an herbarium specimen. Is one really any more real than the other?

Six years ago I played with the idea again, placing a bouquet of wildflowers I picked in front of a picture frame that contained a white mat and glass. I photographed it outdoors, where the natural light threw shadows of the flowers onto the frame (#6).  Then I placed the bouquet next to the frame so that the flowers’ shadows and reflections fell onto the frame. I photographed that, and included some of the flowers and stems in the composition (#7). This increased the complexity of the image, which now included the “real” flowers and leaves, their shadows, and their reflections. Slivers of reflected sky added blue to the colors on the glass. The photograph itself is a form of representation, a trace we perceive from the original object, a step removed from looking at the flowers themselves. I am often just as delighted, or more delighted, to look at the traces things leave – a shadow, a reflection – as I am to look at the thing itself.

This goes back to Kant’s Ding an sich, or the thing in itself. From Wikipedia:

Kant argued the sum of all objects, the empirical world, is a complex of appearances whose existence and connection occur only in our representations.[2] Kant introduces the thing-in-itself as follows:

And we indeed, rightly considering objects of sense as mere appearances, confess thereby that they are based upon a thing in itself, though we know not this thing as it is in itself, but only know its appearances, viz., the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.

— Prolegomena, § 32

 

It’s a good reminder that it’s all about what and how our senses perceive the world; we can’t say that we know anything outside our sensory experiences of it. On a certain level, it’s all representation.

This spring I returned again to the idea of photographing natural objects on blank books, or in empty frames. I draped a few vines growing in pots across a piece of heavy paper, put a frame on top, and photographed it, making sure the composition included leaves outside the picture frame as well as inside it. The urge to frame something is akin to the urge to put things into words, in a way.  We want to preserve and identify and remember a piece of nature, so we remove it, name it, describe it, photograph it, etc. We take these processes for granted, but they’re worth thinking about. Allowing plants to trail outside the frame is a reminder that we can’t really define or capture anything that’s alive, let alone capture any given moment. And that’s no reason to stop trying. There are people who would say that experiencing the flower or the vine directly is superior to viewing its photograph or shadow or reflection. Maybe not. Maybe each way can be valued equally.

 

The photos:

1. – 5. were taken recently, outdoors on a deck. The first has stems of vines that are growing in pots, pulled down across a piece of heavy paper, with an old empty frame placed on top.  The second is a dead Angelica leaf; the next three are dried parrot tulip flower petals.  In #5 the wire on the back of the frame is included. I like both versions – with and without the wire – without the wire it is a more logical picture, but maybe the version with the wire prompts you to think more.

6. & 7. were taken several years ago and are described above. Sadly, the place where I picked that bouquet is no longer graced by wildflowers. It’s a deserted railway bed. Someone got rid of all the butterfly bushes and most of the other wildflowers that were growing happily there – why, I don’t know.

8. (described above) was taken with my first digital camera, a Sony Mavica, which I bought used from someone on ebay, around 2001. It used floppy disks! You could put ten images on each disk, then just pop the disk into your computer, and you had your 3 megapixel images to work with. What an amazing change it was from taking a rolls of film from the point and shoot camera to the drugstore for developing.

9. & 10. were taken recently. I have many small collections of shells and other objects from nature. I have a number of blank books, too. Years ago at an estate sale in a wealthy little Connecticut town, I stumbled across a pile of high quality blank books and bought most of them, for a song. Maybe the home owner had been a book printer – were these the samples?

11. & 12. are different views of a dried Angelica leaf on an old blank book.  13. shows a Queen Anne’s lace flower on a spiral-bound blank book that has black pages.

14. shows a collection of things I picked up on beaches in Oregon and California on a recent trip, arranged on the cover of a large blank book bound in black cloth. The mushroom was found on the beach, too!  The black rocks are from a remote beach on northern California’s Lost Coast called Shelter Cove. You get there by foot, plane, or boat, or by carefully driving 45 minutes down a rough, steeply winding road that’s nearly washed out at one point. One way in, one way out – just hope you don’t get sick when you’re out there. They call the beach black sand but it’s really made of smooth black pebbles, and the shell fragments were hiding among them. But I digress….

 

 


71 comments

  1. This is a beautiful collection, Lynn. It’s no secret that these are some of my favorite subjects and I love your creative approach to shooting them. It can become a challenge to find interesting ways of presenting subject matter like these without detracting from the natural beauty. The frames and blank book ideas very so interesting (and well done). I can pick several favorites from this group. I like #1-4 but especially #7. The shadow work is extraordinary.

    • You’re a person who keeps me going with inspiring work that I’ve come to really appreciate, Ken. I’m really pleased that you like these…that #7 was lucky, for the way the light was bouncing around. I’ll take credit for setting it up and clicking, but still….the flowers and sunlight made some magic together. Thank you!

  2. Your creativity and photographic abilities never cease to amaze, Lynn. I love photos 1-4, especially 1 & 3, where the flowers and leaves go outside the borders of the frame. I also love 11 & 12 because I love books and the Angelica leaves on the book bring a story to the fringes of imagination, a story that is just out of grasp. I also love the collection of items, so neatly arranged on black, in number 14. As always, you’re inspiring. 🙂

  3. Very interesting! Somehow adding the frame, or blank book, emphasizes how ephemeral the living things are. 11, 12, 13 might be illustrations for a fairytale – Beauty & the Beast, or the beginning of The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, when the characters step into a perpetually wintry setting, they almost look frosted. But I particularly like 7, with the wildflower (a poppy?) bending its head to study the shadow-scene. Very nice!
    I’ve worked at a number of historical sites, and always found the dried flowers, that they find pressed between the pages of a book, or a wreath, from a wedding or funeral, sealed into a shadow box, to be very poignant. (I’m still working on not recoiling from the wreaths made of hair, they give me the creeps, but when they were newly-created, and not withered and wiry-looking, I’m sure they had their appeal, too.)
    It took me a while to stop viewing such things, or the momento mori in old paintings, which often had a spent blossom, as maudlin, or a macabre obsession with death, and even if we don’t entirely share the original religious beliefs, now I think our society might be better off, if we learned a lesson or two from these oldtime people — pressed flowers as a reminder that time is pressing, too! Anyway, I digress! These are fascinating compositions you’ve created, very cool.

    • What a creative and beautifully constructed/deconstructed idea. A wonderful collection of images and a delight to view. Thank you.

    • Your digressions are always worth following. 😉 It’s interesting that adding the frame or book emphasizes the ephemeral nature of the objects, that does make sense. And it’s funny you thought of fairy tales – they’re not typically on my mind, but I just finished an excellent book based on one, called The Snow Child. It contains many evocative descriptions of nature. In #7 you’re right, that’s a California poppy. They grow wild around here because we have dry summers. Re flowers pressed in books, I had a really lucky find many years ago at a yard sale – I don’t remember where or when – I found a blank book made to be a diary, for 1943. The owner recorded photographs he took of “Johnny” and of “jobs.” Maybe he was a photojournalist. And pressed in the book are dozens of four-leaf clovers. Some have five or six leaves. Talk about poignant! I should do a post on it, right?

  4. Funny to read Kant in English. I always found him difficult in German – it seems almost easier in translation, must have been a good translater.

    I’m deeply impressed by your wise and wide thoughts on different layers of reality, even more by your original ideas to put them into visuality. Into such overwhelming beauty more over.

    • Ule, I thought of you when I added the Kant quote, hoping you would appreciate the use of a good German philosopher! 😉 Maybe Wikipedia chose the easiest quote – they do have a pretty decent way of clarifying topics that are difficult, and I’ll agree, he’s difficult! Your comments mean a lot to me…you appreciate the thought behind the images, and that helps keep me going. One of the things I’m thinking about these days is the importance of both ideas – intellectual content – and beauty. So often it’s one or the other. I want both! 🙂

  5. Imaginative work in so many ways, Lynn. Creativity is a magical spirit that can lead us down unexplored paths with unexpected consequences. So much to like in the variety shown here but I particularly like that last image – the richness of the colours, the way the Mushroom looks entirely at home among the stones as if it is gnarled rock. I explored single leaves last autumn (you may remember), removing them from the leaf litter and photographing them against a white background back home and creating panels with them – that was a journey that gained its own momentum and I am already looking forward to investing more time in that project later this year. Projects provide purpose and focus – it’s good to have one simmering away in the background. Lovely work.

    • I do remember your photos, Andy, I really liked them. You are better at the technical aspects than I am – more patient for sure. There are numerous shadows in these (of the frames mostly) that a nice studio set-up, or at least decent lighting, could prevent. I can imagine that but haven’t had the patience to make it happen. 🙂
      I can’t help but think that the colors in the last photo work partly because the objects were found in similar places. Far-fetched idea, maybe.
      Projects are great but you need a bit of discipline. I’m trying to improve on that. Having more time certainly helps, but I have wide-ranging interests and it can be hard to narrow my focus. Still, when I channel energy into a project like this it does help me think about what I’m interested in more carefully, and that’s a good way to define, if not narrow, the focus. Thanks for your comments, Andy, it’s a pleasure.

      • The colours did work so well in that last image. As for project discipline – I’m not good at that! I always seem to have two many balls in the air at any one time. But narrowing one’s focus too much can lead to being obsessed! Is there a compromise of getting just the right amount of focus without going overboard? I’m not sure I’ve found it yet but I still enjoy the experience of trying out ideas. Pearl Bailey (American Actress and Singer) said: “A man without ambition is dead.” I agree and I’m sure it applies to women just the same.

      • Pearl Bailey – I used to have an old 78 record of hers – Legalize my Name – I must have listened to that hundreds of times, but somewhere along the way, I lost the record. What a quote. You say you feel you have too many things going on at once, which reminds me that we build pictures in our minds of people from our limited knowledge, pictures that sometimes say more about ourselves than the other person. My idea that you’re so focused and disciplined may fall into that category, i.e. other people are more _____than I am. 🙂

  6. Wow…..definitely a very cool and creative idea! I really enjoy the images on the contrast of captured and free pushed together to assemble a sort of altered reality.

  7. Beautiful and interesting. I’m especially intrigued by the ones with the plants outside of the frames but their shadows ‘inside’. I was a picture framer for 18 years, and part of what I enjoyed about it day to day was the transformation of an object or artwork from when it came in the shop to when it left within it’s frame. The act of defining barriers and perhaps cropping an image, or adding borders and/or backgrounds of various colors, and then the matter of encasing it behind glass or plexiglass and imposing a pattern or definite box around the edge of the whole, created something totally other. It prescribed a different perspective from which to view the object or artwork – just as you’re saying. It often felt magical to me – and apparently to my patrons, since they often remarked at their amazement at the transformation too.

    • Good to hear from you, Sheri! You were a picture framer! Yes, you must have a unique take on what it means to frame something. It’s good to think about. Thanks for your thoughts. 🙂

    • That’s part of the idea… and we still frame it, which is OK, but it’s good to think about once in while. I’m glad you like them – you know, I really love your greenhouse series!

  8. Interesting idea. You’ve really put the fine art into fine art photography. I bet you had fun collecting samples and thinking how they’d frame.

    I suspect you’d get along with my sister. She was a professional framer, did botanical drawings, has a little greenhouse…

    • I hope it’s not disillusioning to tell you I never collect anything with a thought about what I might do with it. It’s more spur-of-the-moment than that! Yes, wow, sounds like your sister and I have a lot in common. Thanks for your thoughts and the compliment, Dave.

  9. I can’t seem to get past my need for color, especially as it relates to most flowers. I’m thinking the Peterson’s starts a search by indexing color… and converting to black and white just strikes me as wrong. Having said that, I’m trying to keep the mind open. You may have noticed that I finally found a subject not long ago of some strange desiccated plant on the beach where the shadows added some interest to the image and didn’t actually have much color… so, yeah… I’m beginning to develop a sense of what it’s about. I’ll still prefer #7 & #8 to add at least the touch of some pigment though.
    I liked the framed and booked theme, but adding the wire seemed a bit distracting, though it did provide context.
    A favorite is a tossup between #7 and #13 (surprise! it’s a B&W). I never claimed to be consistent. But Queen Anne’s Lace is mostly white. I can’t help but wonder what it might be with just a touch of muted green on the leaves… I haven’t figured out how, just yet, but seems there’s an option to pick just one color to show up in an image on the new camera.
    I didn’t intend this to be a rant about B&W treatment, but I’m attempting to grasp the concept.
    I loved the last image as a beautiful narrative of your recent trip! What an inspired treatment.

      • I’m happy that you noticed that de vries link – I didn’t know about him, but I saw a book of his work at a used bookshop here a few years ago and bought it – it was a worthwhile purchase. He’s fascinating. I know your struggle with black and white flower images, and it’s great that you keep thinking about it, rant on! I do remember that photo of yours, which I liked. One of the things I like about black and white is that it allows you to just work with shape, line, texture, etc. The last image just happened spontaneously – there were all these small things sitting there that we’d brought back (and one BIG one, on the deck….) so I put them onto the book – it was the perfect background – and later photographed it. No doubt you’re on intimate terms with these kinds of things and could make some nice assemblages from stuff you gather. In your spare time….

  10. This is wonderful innovation, you are really artistic, my friend – and like some of the other commenters here, I love the ones where the flowers overlap the frames. Which really get to me? Well, 3, and then 4 (ohhh!); and 7, where I really like the small amounts of colour – a fascinating image; in 13, the book’s binding really adds to it, and this is perfect in B+W; also 14, a very interesting assemblage. A 🙂

  11. This is a stimulating and unusual approach and has evoked a range of interesting responses. In general, I am very wary of frames (and I hate labels!) – they enclose and constrain and often inhibit the expansion/exploration of ideas. But you have used the frame differently – often the frame becomes a compositional element within the picture (as in 6,7 and 8) and that I like.

    • Louis, you’re right, exactly – the post has provoked a range of interesting responses. I was just talking to someone about that last night. It’s delightful, to read about different takes on these. Yours is very interesting too, no surprise! You prefer the more exuberant-in-spite of-being-framed images. 🙂 Thank you for your thoughts.

    • You and I have been talking about concepts of reality for a while, and that helps to keep me going, so thank you, too. Barely scratching the surface here, but I know it’s a worthwhile effort.

  12. What a fun and unique idea! I like seeing that you experimented with the concept by trying different versions. If you were to do some more of this perhaps you could try changing up the backdrops a bit … old wood or brick, sand, wallpaper??? My favorites are 1 & 12. Great work!

    • It’s good to experiment, isn’t it? I’ve been interested in ideas about what is real and what’s not real, or what is contained and identified, versus what’s not contained, for a while. I did one or two photos of flowers on books with text, too but they look to me more like a nostalgic image. The reason I kept the backdrops plain was to keep the question about how something is presented up front. I can see where different backdrops would be attractive, but I think that would be at the risk of just making a decorative picture, and what I’m trying to do is make something that is attractive, but also causes a viewer to wonder a little, maybe ask a question. I hope that makes sense!

  13. Lynn, I do not think I have ever seen anything like this, and it is so wonderfully creative and unique.
    Really, just beautiful!
    Thank you for sharing these here, and do keep doing these!

  14. That ever elusive line between the real and the imagined and the fake and the surreal…every creator wrestles with these ideas and I enjoyed how you thought of them in terms of nature “out there” versus nature captured through art. I think I miss out when I only favor one form over another. I’m also interested in the context of placed objects. Your leaf placed on a book page made me think about how this may feel artificial to the observer as opposed to the same leaf being placed on the ground and then photographed, even though both have been manipulated by the person behind the lens.

    • That’s a great point – so much is arbitrary, or at least unexamined. In a similar vein, we bring objects into a gallery and they become art. Context can be critical, but it’s good to remember to look past it, too. I appreciate your comment so much, thank you.

  15. Terrific project Lynn and extremely well done. I immediately thought of one of my favorite photographers, Sean Kernan, who has done something somewhat similar but different. See: https://www.seankernan.com/secret-books. The softer lighting you use is a nice contrast — pun intended 🙂 — to his images.

    One day I’ll have to tell you about the remarkable experience I had in connection with photographic framing at one of John Daido Loori”s photography workshops.

    • Thanks for mentioning him – he’s not exactly new to me, because I know I’ve seen his work, including some of the book series, but I’m not familiar with him by name. What a beautiful website he has. Our library has his trees book, which I’ll get. The other day at a UW horticulture library exhibit, I saw that a botanical illustrator had included a few books into which she inked page-sized crows – they were nice to see. And, small world, she did a watercolor of Buddha’s feet with flower petals, which she said she copied from a photo on Glassman’s book, Bearing Witness.
      You really have my curiosity active – hope I hear about that experience soon….

  16. I love this! I think it’s a beautiful tribute to mother nature ❤ Are you familiar with wabi-sabi, Lynn? I have a feeling you might like it, basically the highest beauty is found in imperfections and we should really appreciate the ingenious integrity of things in nature.

    • That is a pleasing way to think about it, as a tribute to nature. I am familiar with wabi-sabi – I’ve been interested in Asian thought and art for a long time. When I was in my 30’s, I lived for about 5 years in a zen Buddhist community in New York. The fact that you thought of wabi-sabi when you saw this is encouraging – that’s part of my thinking, too. Thanks so much for your comments.

  17. So many artfully designed photos! But the one that most compelled my attention was the last. I have three potted plants on my balcony that have those white-veined black pebbles covering thei surface of the soil.. I collected some at the mouth of the Russian River, and the rest from the Lost Coast. I’ve never seen them elsewhere, and yet here they are. It was wonderful to see them as part of your arrangement.

    • Cool! That spark of recognition is always so happy-making. I’m glad I picked them up – we always joke about lugging huge things home but the small pebbles are nice. I bet they’re lovely all together in those pots.

  18. I also spoke with my film maker friend this week and she also talks about project based works I ought to do…I can see this and your images also tell a story over time…always thoughtful and these are beautiful Lynn all the different ways to frame and compose your story….lovely again ❤️😀


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