Excerpt from Seeing Me Not catalogue essay:
“This business of seeing is a strange phenomenon. Most of us feel, that the higher up we climb the more we can see. As the world becomes a map spread out before us we think we see it all, a fast panorama we can grasp at a glance and examine at our leisure. But men who are used to looking at nature know that often the part may tell the story more truthfully than the whole.” from Edward Weston The photographer (1)
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”. Edgar Degas - French Impressionist painter (2)
Examining our relationship with plants has been a central focus in my Masters work. In particular, I have considered our uneasy connection to certain species and our (often arbitrary) definition of 'weeds'. The evolution of my work over the past two years as I have explored themes of perception, value and decay, provide a context for my final show. Using processes involving deconstruction, preservation and anamorphism, I have considered this human-plant relationship through an uneasy duality; my own sense of guardianship for these unloved plants and a desire to present them in a different light.
From a distance my work looks easily accessible – an array of plant-life specimens in jars, on glass, or presented as images; easily recognisable botanical representations.
But on closer inspection, they can catch the viewer off-guard. They are not the portraits they might first appear. In fact, they attempt to disrupt the viewer’s expectations of botanical imagery.
More traditional botanical art-forms focus on accuracy to represent the beauty of the natural world. However my work often steps beyond traditional ideas of natural beauty, and at times it even manipulates the documenting of detail to subvert expectations of accuracy; an anticipated scientific perspective. To engage the viewer, my work should pose questions. Is this botanical art, or have I walked into a science lab? What am I looking at and how should I be viewing this? Are these plants wanted or unwanted, intentional or invasive; heroes or villains? It is this juxtaposition, and the uncertainty it can create, that informs my current work.
Drawing on Flusser's ideas of the artist as 'functionary', I have engaged directly with the natural world; choosing botanical subjects from my immediate environment. A leaf, a seed or a plant, a subject that may seem commonplace, is then reinterpreted. It is this potentiality, particularly within the overlooked and ignored, that pushes my work beyond the immediate and drives my practice. This has led to many of my works having a more specific focus. The 'weed' has become the central subject; plants that are often unloved and devalued, seen but overlooked.
My Master's work is inspired by a number of previous artists who have explored similar subjects and themes. Karl Blossfeldt gathered specimens, mostly along country tracks or railway embankments, or similar proletarian places, and his focus was often plants that were defined as weed species.(3) His photographic images could be described as plant portraits, images of parts of plants, sometimes enlarged, arranged in the middle of the frame.
A similar representational approach is often a starting point within my own practice. Plants are evenly lit and the subjects appear to be presented without manipulation. Removing plants from their natural environment and placing them singly in the frame of the camera removes any distraction: it isolates each plant from its context and frees the viewer from forced associations. It privileges my plant subjects as unique while borrowing elements from both minimalism and portraiture. It is this 'befriending' (4) of weeds, singling them out from their often neglected environment, that I hope creates a tension in my work- re-encoding something ordinary into something extra-ordinary.
In my more photographically derived work, it is through anamorphosis that I attempt to deny the viewer an easy and straightforward narrative. My work contains intentional untruths, distortions both obvious and half-hidden. Sometimes my un-truth’s are told directly in front of the lens, in much the same way as Fontcuberta’s Herbarium series. However, while Fontcuberta presents the viewer with a series of pseudo-botanical images with attached Latin nomenclature to discourage closer examination of the compiled specimens (5), my manipulations are designed to quickly become evident to the viewer, changing or distorting their reading of the work.
Stephen Colbert defines the human tendency to attribute realism to a photographic image as 'truthiness' - “what you want the facts to be, as opposed to what the facts are’.(6)..................
“For though we may be the earth’s gardeners, WE are also its weeds. And we won’t get anywhere until we come to terms with this crucial ambiguity about our role - that we are at once the problem and the only possible solution to the problem”. (10)
(with editorial assistance by Brendan Weir, MCW)