Flower

Author: Photography by Christopher Beane; Text by Anthony F. Janson

Publisher: Artisan (Workman Publishing)

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

Every once in a long while a book of photographs comes along that provides not just beautiful images, but that makes you stop and think about the nature of photography and vision itself. “Flower” is such a book.

Christopher Beane’s images are of beautiful, voluptuous flowers, but from a viewpoint that seems to give a new meaning to the genre. The images, taken in close-up, are curvy and saturated. They are almost abstract, like modernist paintings designed not to show us the flower but the nature of color and form itself. They seem closest to the works of Georgia O’Keefe, but they are not derivative. Rather they head in a new direction.

The text, provided by Anthony F. Janson, says that Beane is a deconstructionist. One might take that as a term of art criticism, but I chose to give it a more literal meaning. In many of his pictures the photographer has actually taken the flowers apart and dissected them so that we see the parts of several flowers intertwined and yet capturing some essence of the flower. Over time, Beane has developed his art, first taking pictures with backgrounds of black and then with marbleized paper and then with Venetian glass. Sometimes the backgrounds blend perfectly with the petals so that it is difficult to tell where the flower ends and the background begins. At other times the background seems at a distance from the flower. There are even murals that combine several related pictures, with a strong flavor of classical Japanese art.

Although post-modernist photographers often construct the images they photograph, assembling subjects has long been a technique of still-life photographers so that Beane cannot be considered in the former camp. Instead, he is more like modernist painters who sought to show us the nature of form and color by removing the subject from the image. Only, the subject is not removed from the image here. Instead, it is viewed from closer than we are used to and lit in unaccustomed ways, to illuminate (and that’s not a tautology here) the essence of the subject.

I am reluctant to say that any artist has captured something new. The text suggests that Beane is in the tradition of Mapplethorpe and Araki, but if he is, he has carried his flower photography many steps beyond their work. I thought of comparing his work to several other flower photographers but ultimately found him in a class of his own.

In most works of this type, the text seems to be a gratuitous add-on. Janson, however, truly helps to explicate these works, as might be expected from a man who is the co-author, with his father, of one of the great explorations of art.

Photographers have much to learn from Beane’s work, not the least, that no genre has reached the end of possibilities. Moreover, Beane’s work reveals that it possible to continue varying one’s work, and exploring new ways to see.

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