My sustained investigation of black and white floral studies may seem nostalgic next to the preference for color demonstrated by most artists. But the restricted palette, which recalls that of photographers Robert Mapplethorpe, and Imogen Cunningham, is most effective at conveying their poetic voice, often with sensual and erotic undertones.
The calla lily captured my interest because of their minimal elegance. In its simplicity, there is a story to tell. To present that story, it is best to have a limited or no background.
Calla lily comes in different colors carrying different meanings. These include:
- White stands for innocence and purity.
- Pink represents admiration.
- Yellow symbolizes gratitude and joy.
- Purple symbolizes charm and passion.
- Aubergine or almost black portrays elegance and mystery.
Despite the specific color meanings Sigmund Freud wrote of the calla lily’s sexually suggestive appearance in his 1905 book, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Many people saw the flower as symbolizing exoticism and sexuality representing sexual orientations such as bisexuality and homosexuality, because its structure and appearance evokes both male and female genitalia. Painter Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of the calla lily in the early 1930s resulted in her moniker, “the lady of the lilies.” Salvador Dali, Ansel Adams, and Robert Mapplethorpe have also portrayed the calla lily in their art, often with erotic meanings imbued in its representation.
To create my artwork, I have used the aubergine, a red / yellow blend and white calla lilies.
Elegance Calla Lys Noir Series
Elegance Calla Lys Noir series of five images was created using the aubergine colored calla lily. With the aubergine color, a white background provided for the most effective presentation. The selection of the flower stems and positioning was based on personal instinct.
To create this series, there were two major challenges:
- With the gradation of the aubergine color, the management of lighting was critical. My lighting skills allowed for the capture of that gradation which is reflected with the shine on the flower.
- Silver gelatin printing has been the primary black and white process since its development in the late 1880s and consists of three layers — paper, baryta, and gelatin—on which an image is produced. The gelatin layer is made up of an emulsion that consists of light-sensitive silver compounds that form the image following exposure of the negative and development in a chemical bath. (See Note 1 for insight on silver gelatin printing.)
The normal development time for each print is three minutes. For images No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3, I increased the development time to five minutes to achieve the dramatic bold black flowers against the pure rich white background. For images No. 4, and No. 5, I was able to achieve the desired effect with the normal development time.
Two interesting facts about this series of images:
- Many people question me if these images are paintings. They view the bold black elements in the print as swaths of black paint. I believe that the illusion of a painting is achieved by creating silver gelatin prints. As a purist, silver gelatin prints produce a broader range of tones from the blacks through to the grays to the whites.
- Elegance Calla Lys Noir No 2 – Who do I look like?
I have viewers say: “I see the iconic Grace Jones”! Do you agree?
A true lover of art, Grace Jones has pushed the boundaries of performance. Yes, this angular beauty with cheekbones that could kill. Grace, born in Jamaica, has achieved status as a musician, actress and model.
Her style, a mixture of androgyny and visual performance has ever so slightly changed over the years, wearing men’s clothing, then tearing it apart to entice sexuality. During the 80’s, she was featured heavily in Jean Paul Goude works, the renowned French photographer/artist. He created the statuette, stern and ferocious character the world sees; however, as a contrast, Grace became the mother of Jean’s son.
Elegance Calla Lys Melange de Couleurs Series
Elegance Calla Lys Melange de Couleurs series of five images was created using a red / yellow colored blend calla lily. The selection of the flower stems and positioning was based on personal instinct. After evaluating the blended color of the calla lilies, I made the decision that a white background would provide for the most effective presentation.
I have a creative philosophy of sharply focused photographs. This is like innovative American photographer Imogen Cunningham who is best known for her detailed, sharply focused photographs of plants as well as her revealing portraits.
For this series, I often get the comment, “Are theses graphite / sketches”? I believe that this illusion has been created through the sharply focused images and the tonal range of silver gelatin prints.
What are your thoughts?
If I am not on a mission to select a specific flower or my florist had selected a flower from the market, my selection is often based on my initial response to what I see. On this visit to the florist, there were large stem white calla lilies, they looked like a trumpet. Calla lily is also known as a “trumpet lily”.
The composition of images No. 1 and No. 2 was based on personal instinct. What do the images reflect; for me, Calla Trois No. 1 speaks strength; and Calla Trois No. 2 speaks triumph!
How do the images speak to you?
Early Calla Lily Studies
- My first calla lily study was created for 2004 Contact Photography Festival. This was my first solo exhibition after taking early retirement from the Bank of Nova Scotia. The objective of the exhibition was to expand the scope of my subject material beyond landscape studies.
To create this image, I selected and positioned three white calla lilies and intertwined twigs around the lilies. The twigs were positioned not to overwhelm the image but to create a flow.
The result, an elegant classical image. How does the image speak to you?
- My second calla lily study was created in 2008 … titled Calla Spike. I selected two white calla lilies, combined, and positioned them in front of a black background. As part of the composition, I placed two large leaves in the background.
To enhance the spike look, I enlarged the image and cropped the paper to a width of twelve inches. For the large leaves in the background, I highlighted the edges of the leaves providing a complementary form to the flower.
Fine art black and white silver gelatin printing is a fading art. It requires a highly skilled and experienced darkroom technician. For each individual print, the fragile negative is used and manipulated in the darkroom which exposes the delicate negative to wear, limiting the number of prints that can be produced. It is not uncommon for the most experienced photographer to produce several prints before creating the one that meets the highest standard. The fragile nature of the process and high quality of the fine art prints make silver gelatin prints more expensive than their contemporary counterparts. Digital printing is less labor intensive and less expensive to produce an endless number of identical images.
Even after 125 years the process created by R.L. Maddox in 1871 remains the preferred process for fine art photography. For many purists, the subtle gray tones and contrasts achieved through the gelatin silver method are superior to modern digital photography. Even with improvements in technology, silver gelatin prints can still produce a print with a broader range of tones than digital prints.