The global market for cut flowers is projected to reach $43.8 billion by 2027. Our fascination with blooms has endured for millennia. Bunches of flowers are intertwined with human emotion and experience, acting as symbols of love, joy, grief, loss, conflict and celebration. It is no surprise, then, to see them pop up frequently throughout art history. Roman mosaics, 17th century Dutch painting and the first ever photography book (published by botanist Anna Atkins in 1843) all have flowers in common. Here again, they are ciphers of human endeavour: wealth, mortality, scientific progress. In 2022, they can be found circulating in the metaverse, bought and sold as NFTs.
Flora Photographica is an essential compendium of flowers in contemporary image-making. The volume charts a wealth of approaches to the subject. Some of the artists, such as Helene Schmitz, zero in on their subject matter – capturing petals, patterns and fronds up close. For others, flowers appear as part of the wider mise-en-scene: in Larry Sultan’s tongue-in-cheek compositions, for example, or segmented in mirrors by Paul Mpagi Sepuya. Ori Gersht is known for blowing arrangements apart, whilst Mandy Barker brings them back together – arranging artificial flowers found washed up on beaches.
We live in an increasingly digital world, marked in part by urban expansion and biodiversity loss. Connected to the global flower trade is the fact that, by 2050, scientists estimate there will be no habitat left for wild tulips, with all future cultivation relying on human intervention. In this way, Flora Photographica becomes elegiac. Henrik Spohler transports us to such a future, with images of laboratories, plant auctions and greenhouses showing “what the future holds when humans become creators.”
Words: Eleanor Sutherland
1. © 2017 Aimée Hoving, Het Boeket, from the series Pictures of Her, 2017 (Flowers by Brigitte Grentis Van dam Merret)
2. © 2020 Thirza Schaap, Vanda, from the series Plastic Ocean, 2020
3. © 2019 Pedro Almodóvar, Depending on the Red Gerbera, 2019
4. © 2019 Pamela Hawkes, After Redouté, 2019
5. © 2016 Abelardo Morell, 2016–Flowers for Lisa #30