High Key Gerberas

February 24 Theme -Monochrome Flora

For February’s Theme competition, we are asking you to experiment with black and white, sepia or monochrome conversion of your favourite image of a flower or plant.

Several well-known photographers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries spent some of their time capturing images of flowers and plants on black and white film.  Karl Blossfeldt spent thirty-five years of his career photographing nothing but plants. Arranging them against plain backgrounds, his goal was to highlight their elegant “architectural” structures. Blossfeldt’s master work, Art Forms in Nature (1928), is an intriguing collection of subtly-toned BW photogravure images now recognised a vital contributions to the history of photography.

Imogen Cunningham once said that her passion for photography emanated from a desire “to acknowledge the sensual and energetic pulse that runs through all of life.”  She is famous for, among other things, her beautifully-lit, softly-focused close-up images of magnolia blossoms and calla lilies.

Although famous for his moody, awe-inspiring monochrome images of the Sierra Nevada, Ansel Adams also tried his hand at photographing plants and flowers in their natural environment. As with his landscapes, Adams often employed “burning”, “dodging” and other darkroom techniques to manipulate the tonality of his images, enhancing his artistic vision, as opposed to merely recording what his camera “saw”.

Presenting images of flowers or plants in monochrome might seem a bit paradoxical. Most of us are drawn to photograph flowers for their colours, whether intense and dazzling or soft and subtle.  However, converting any image to monochrome can free up the parts of our attention that are attracted by colours and we can more fully appreciate the less conspicuous, subtler qualities of a subject.

When doing my own monochrome flora conversions, I am often surprised by how the visual impact of an image is altered in the process. Although with colour, it is mostly the hues (bold or subtle) that monopolize my attention; monochrome images tend to emphasize texture, shape and lines. I have found that some of my monochrome conversions, with their colour “distractions” removed, seem more unified compositionally than their originals.  I have also noticed that converting an image to monochrome can transform it…from a casual shot taken on one’s travels, for instance, to something more imaginative or artistic. 

So, with this month’s theme, we are hoping you will accept the challenge to try something that might be outside of your usual photographic practice. Have fun!

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