Peonies seem more ethereal than other flowers, except maybe poppies, the way they float on longish stems just above their nitty gritty business like foliage. I respect these leafy engines of growth, but since the flower represents the distillation of all that is below it, my first thought was to isolate the flowers and juxtapose them in new ways. Since I have always been convinced that we see by contrast and sometimes there just isn’t enough, I set about finding new contexts in which to see peonies….
Watching the movie Dutch Light made me realize how much light affects what we see. Light has a mysterious quality (wave or particle?) but the movie’s prominent theory is that Dutch light is so very luminous because of all the tiny droplets of water vapor constantly in the air. This is due to the watery nature of the Netherlands – low lying seas, rivers, and lakes. Light like sound bounces off surfaces and water is especially multifaceted. There is a bit of water in this photo emanating from the melon, but there is a variation on a water droplet, the lush and moist peony blossoms which are reflecting light from every possible angle. In an ongoing justification for the decorative and the ornament in interior and exterior design, it appears that there is a sublime function for these embellishments – to reflect light and sound into a complex richness and whole unattainable with flat surfaces. Alas the photo has no sound, but perhaps one can imagine a comparable sound reflected off intricately carved walls in a perfect acoustical setting such as Vienna’s Golden Hall.
Peonies Travel to Lake Michigan
Peonies seem too delicate for sport or action but we carefully carried a few blooms in a cooler to the shore on a windy day after a storm the night before. The flowers took to the water by floating beautifully, but the remnants of the storm had them windswept and churning in no time. This experiment demonstrated more about the ways of people throwing peonies into the surf and then running fast to photograph them. We didn’t last long in this weather, but the peonies got to meet the Big Lake – and there did seem to be commonalities, even between something so large and sweeping and something so small and delicate. They both have undulating movement and rhythm, intricacies and seemingly never ending surfaces.
Peonies and Onions
There are some good things about waiting to clean out the refrigerator. Way in the back, I discovered these sprouting onions with their delicate green – a green very equivalent to the pink in the peonies, reticent, uncertain, and delicately beautiful.
I wanted to photograph an all over pattern, somewhat like fabric, and needed something to knit the pattern together visually – something to guide the eye around. In EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, these eye movements going from right to left and back again in a rhythmic way – engaging both brain hemispheres, can actually create cures from emotional traumas and faulty thinking. Perhaps there is a wholistic aspect to brain functioning that is strengthened by viewing artistic subjects. This reminds me of a book on my list I must read soon: The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World
Looking at some of my favorite 17th and 18th century botanical prints on Panteek.com, it struck me that these onion stems seem to take the place of the oft used trailing ribbons in the sky which guide the eye in such a delightful way around the print. The dark background also contrasts with the light pinks for visual contrast, a feature also seen constantly in 17th and 18th century Dutch art such as in Vermeer’s paintings. The darks are so very dark and the lights so light – but never pure white, instead a tinted off white.
Peony in the Sky
If some of the 17th and 18th century botanical prints are surreal in nature, then they are a very benign and happy surrealism – the best variety in my opinion. I hope this photo is in the same spirit. And since all matter originates in outer space, I suppose it is scientifically accurate as well.