It’s been a little while since I have been obsessing over flowers and florals. When talking to friends, everyone was keen on me distinguishing between the two. Flowers are associated with nature, whereas florals go from being magnificent to making people scrunch their noses thinking of their grandma and curtains. Flowers are the plant whereas florals are ‘of, relating to, or depicting flowers’ : Whether it be Irving Penn’s photos of tulips, floral tablecloths, hello kitty, or lace embroidery. The beauty of flowers is the common denominator which is the reason that throughout history and today it has been and is continuously something we explore leading to the development of the genre ‘florals’.
Florals go from being art to being tacky, just like flowers wane and wilt. Whereas it is obvious why flowers wane and wilt, it is much less easy to understand why one floral is beautiful and another is tacky.
The reason we scrunch up our noses when we think of florals is because they are often plastered at the height of their beauty onto a surface. But the reality is that flowers are frail, they don’t exist in a fixed state. The most beautiful flowers are the ones in the meadow, like the wild red poppy. You cannot pick the poppies because the moment you do they fall apart. The flower’s beauty is its ephemerality which is a lot harder to capture, then bold colours and shapes.
Nobody is interested in a photo of a dying flower or what happens before a flower blooms and how flowers pollinate. (Pollination is a whole world and I could write about only that – and no you would not fall asleep). Florals exist in a fixed state usually blooming, not dead.
Irving Penn’s photos make you acutely aware of the fact that flowers are alive. Irving Penn is a fashion photographer; yet my favourite works are his still-life pictures of flowers. These photos show the flowers as if you were looking through a microscope. The flower is apart, outside of our human intervention and input. The viewer can inspect the flower in a way that you would never truly see a flower in real life. The photo has brought you even closer than the subject itself can ever bring you, while estranging you at the same time. You see the water droplets on the petals, the veins, the pollen, even the dust. It is so real it becomes surreal. However Irving Penn’s florals stand apart and one cannot talk about florals without discussing the glossy, the over-saturated, the repetitive patterns…Irving Penn’s florals contend with art, what about florals in our everyday life.
Specifically why is there a trend for brunch places, lunch places and now dinner places too – to be vomiting flowers. Not a flower on the table, but a cascade of flowers outside… Usually the flowers are pink, and everything is pink and candy to our eyes, candy for instagram. What do we crave when we photograph flowers? I think it’s the fact that it’s not harsh lines, rectangular blocks, cement, it’s colour, it’s nature. No matter who you are and where you come from there is a universality of flowers. Everyone remains in awe when a tree is in bloom. In a time where we are all so attached to our phones it’s wonderful that something can make us look beyond our pocket screens. Cheers to capitalism for leveraging the power of nature and making it into a marketing tool. But these brunch places only show the glitter, rainbows and of course unicorns. They become a projection of what nature is and in doing so becomes a fiction of the imagination.
Then we have the flat florals – the ones that are varnished over notebooks when you are a kid and that become part of your curtains as you age. Welcome Martin Parr the king of capturing the tacky and kitsch. Martin Parr is an English photographer who snaps pictures at everything you would crop out of a picture. His favourite themes include: feet, blurred foregrounds which could be mistaken for an error, and naked people at the beach. Martin Parr’s series called ‘florals’ emblematises this last category of florals. It’s not about the flowers in the enchanted forest, but about what happens to that flower when we take it and weave it into our hair. It’s about the granny wearing that blue red and orange flowery dress because she loves flowers. It’s about Grannies or Nonna’s in Italian. Grannies have this thing with florals, I think it’s almost beautiful – it’s nostalgic and sweet, like a grainy polaroid. Florals are a promise of youth, beauty and innocence. This contrasts everything a granny is, making the truth stand out even starker, in a funny almost ironic way.
Published by Munkedals, Sweden 1999
© Martin Parr
Today it’s ironic, but one day I will be that woman dressed in tiny pastel blue flowers on a soft yellow background that used to smell fresh like morning dew and roses but now smells like magnolias left in the boiling august sun. The flowers will have accompanied me through my life, appearing continuously at different checkpoints: My baptism, my graduation, a first crush, a job offer…a marriage, maybe two? A kid, a funeral… The flower will always be beautiful and I will always crave that beauty. The flower will continue to bloom every season and to make new generations gush, and what I thought was a granny floral will be considered cool…
Maybe that is why I am currently into collecting ugly florals, because they stand for more than they are, they encapsulate people, generations and places. So please send my way your ugly florals, cause right now Richard Quinn is bringing back the ugly and making it ‘trendy’. He is collapsing all the generations and showing florals in all their grandeur, the good, the bad and the ugly.