Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why tulips?

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a strong bias in favor of photographing wild things over the domesticated. So, why a post devoted to tulips? Two reasons. The first has to do with the theme I've posted several times recently, namely survival.
We moved into our Quincy house 5 years ago, and there was an established tulip bed running alongside the front porch. Probably 20 feet long, packed with tulips of several varieties. We don't spend much time on yard work, so we just enjoyed the annual spring show. Last year, we decided to make a change. We removed all the tulips (we thought) and planted some evergreen shrubs. Well, the tulips are back and have overwhelmed the shrubs. So, this is a tribute to their survival.
The second reason for indulging in a little tulip photography - and I may not be finished - has to do with a conversation with a fellow naturalist/photographer about realism vs. manipulation of the subject. I have tended to portray whole plants as I find them in nature, or close-ups that reflect just getting closer. Once in a while I'll indulge an unusual angle, like when I find the backside of a flower intriguing. My friend sent me a photo of azaleas. Around the periphery were the edges of petals of blossoms that happened to surround an open space in which there was an unopened bud (redundant?). He asked for my comment. I said I didn't care for the shot because, recognizing the wild azaleas, I wanted to see the whole flower and even to smell it. Wild azalea is one of my favorite aromas. To me, the bud didn't stand out as a worthy subject. I wanted to see the rest of the blossoms. He then sent me another photo. A poppy bud, still covered with a sheath of tan material under which you could see hints of the bright orange petals about to burst out. I loved it. My friend is a great naturalist, so I was hesitant to criticize, but I thanked him for sending two photos that caused me to examine my philosophy of photography anew. I still am wary of photo-editing software like Photoshop (r) because it temps one to manipulate subjects that might be better left alone. Some photos remind me of amateur rock bands that hide lousy music behind garish costumes, body piercings, and ridiculously high volume. I do use editing software to correct what I think my camera didn't get right. I try to restore my memory of the flower or bug as I saw it. I don't ever try to improve on nature. I think that's impossible by definition. My artistic sensibility, such as it is, is exercised mainly through composition, searching for favorable lighting, and finding interesting settings. And, of course, whenever possible include something about my subject's ecological role. For instance, I seem to have grown fond of flowers that are being visited by bugs.
The present set of tulip photos were a bit of a stretch for me, an experiment in tight cropping, extreme close-ups, and getting away from the standard portrait of each flower. It was hard for me to stray from portraying tulips AS tulips rather than as geometric abstractions. Anyway, it was fun, and I may try to delve a bit further into the abstract with my next set.

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