The cherry blossom took on a huge significance this year, a sign of optimism that things are returning to normal after the nightmare of the pandemic.
Every year I walk through the avenue of blossom trees in Greenwich Park to breathe in the sights and smells of the spring blooms, which scientifically are a great boost for wellness. Just like insects, we still respond to the power of plants and flowers. It’s easy to forget our connection to Nature after a winter of quarantine with a connection to computers.
This year the blossom avenue was full of photographers , mainly Instagrammers making use of the delightful backdrop of pink. Every professional influencer wants that shot in front of the beautiful blossom.
It was impossible to have my relaxing stroll because you had to dodge camera tripods and lighting stands at a safe 2m distance. I hung around quite happily to wait for them to finish so I could have a turn walking on the path. But each of the 7 photographers there (on a quiet rainy Tuesday), stayed for at least 2hrs. One photographer had models with different outfits in suitcases and was there a whole day with a picnic laid out.
It was interesting to observe the “selfishness” of these people. They were behind the cameras as if they were not part of reality, it’s not like they didn’t care. I wondered if this was an effect of quarantine, social Media, or what? I’ve never seen anything like it. I heard that people were snapping off twigs of blossom to pose with. Many times, in daffodil season, I have repremanded people for trampling the flowers whilst posing for photos.
some city dwellers are unaware that they are destroying Nature because they have barely experienced plants
tourists sometimes don’t understand that these are cultivated and not wild plants
Children expect flowers to spring up again like rubber toys
this new phenomenon where people seem to be looking at life through a screen , and aren’t in the ‘reality’ (if there is a ‘reality’)
a small minority just don’t care and willfully toss litter, and destroy plants which they believe are there to serve them
I must look more into the Japanese tradition of Hanami. This is possibly what was going on, people spending a whole day under the blossom in groups is a tradition that I was not aware of.
Its is also interesting that in Buddhist tradition each blossom represents a fallen Samuri, it reminded me of my Leaf Project in which I am making each leaf represent a Londoner. In China the flowers signify hope and feminine power.
This photo shows how I managed to find a lone tree by the gate to photograph. There is always a way to get the shot!
As a photographer I feel dutybound to convey that picturesque Nature is not just a convenient backdrop, its the very fabric of our life, and future generations depend on it.
This week I was asked to give a presentation to the Thamesmead Nature Forum. They were very interested to see my my Leaf Project (in progress) and other ways that I collaborate with Nature in my work. I had some great feedback “spectacular presentation” and “beautiful work”. I even managed to pull off a live cyanotype demo with an Honesty plant (left) that came out rather well.
Meanwhile, the printing on leaves is laborious. From drying, pressing and coating the leaves to printing them in the darkroom. Only a few make the final cut. These are some of the technical difficulties that I have had to resolve through experiments:
In fact this whole process makes me appreciate a pristine uniform pack of photographic paper in a whole new light !
I coat the leaves in liquid silver emulsion and store them in a large light tight metal box that I cart around wrapped in coats under darkness! At one point I lost my car keys and house keys with this cumbersome cargo and had to change all my locks! One plus was the amazing tabacco-like aroma from the soaked lilly pads. I have yet to get a good print on one of these magical lily pads.
My search for appropriate leaves has led to me examining leaves in great detail, the variety is immense. The patterns in Nature, the veins , the leaf shapes, the infinite fractals. For sometime I have been engrossed with the pattern of branching, branching that could be echoed in a branching multiverse.
Equally fascinating are the distorted leaves I find, those which grow differently due to disease, or those from roadside trees that are tarnished with black pollution.
Some of the leaves have been collected from specific sites, such as Tidemill Gardens before the trees were ripped up to make way for new flats. These are large and frail and have a different quality (persona if you like) to the fresher leaves. It becomes an interesting exercise to match the faces with their leaves. I have a bunch of tiny leaves that I use as test strips. The fact that I am going through about 25 leaves to get 1 print I am happy with, makes them even more special and precious to me. “Exquisite” was a word someone used to describe them, and that’s definitelty what I am aiming for.
I am very grateful for a grant from the Richard & Siobhan Coward Foundation that has enabled me to buy materials for this work.