If you’ve lived in or around Gwangju over the past 6 weeks, there was mostly like ten days or so when your eyes were inundated with photos of small pinkish flowers like the ones shown above. While South Korea does not have as strong of a Hanami tradition as in Japan, admiration for the humble yet exotically-epherimal cherry blossom was most likely shoved down your visual gullet through Facebook or other social media feeds. However, here’s hoping that you’ve not quite gotten your fill. Perhaps, the photo blog’s delayed response in depicting the flower was well served by this photographers stubborn propensity to shoot film. Unlike shooting by digital means, working with 135mm film (or 35mm, for short) takes considerable more time before the images burned onto its chemical surface can make their way from paper to bytes. In the three weeks it took to fill the entire thirty-six frames, send it to the developer, then scanner, and back again, you just might have finished detoxing from your yearly bout of cherry-gluttony, and therefore not recoil in horror upon encountering the image above.
As most imported natural or artificial spectacles tend to be re-branded as couples holidays, the appreciation for cherry blossoms has not been spared this unfortunate malaise. However, this photograph was chosen in the hope that it could reveal an essence within whatever a flower truly is. Beyond branding, label, title or concept, what truly IS a flower? When encountering thousands of them in one concentrated area, what makes power makes us stop in our tracks? What draws us to them? (I recently read an article about how Neanderthals included with the corpse, different species of flowers as part of their burying rituals. Evidently, the ability to feel the power within the pedals is not limited to humans alone.) What emotions do memories of flowers evoke in us? What do those memories look like? Perhaps, the image above could attempt to do justice to those questions by not allowing us the certitude of ready-made answers. Rather, when seeing this photo, the feeling into which these flowers thrust me ultimately left little room for detached judgment. It reminded me that when we are truly with beauty, we know not of the past, nor the future. Only when exiting from that experience do we remember that it is beauty’s job to fade.
The close-up, and multi-layered nature of this image both bring us closer to the subject, yet also continually redefine what that subject is. As the lens nears the stamen, petals retreat to the periphery, and what was once subject in-and-of itself, now becomes negative space. On this occasion, the process of photographing became a continual process of discovery. Unsurprisingly, the act of shooting can reveal an attachment to the moment, to cling to the emotions therein, and to not let them grow dim. However, when we encounter an image which speaks to that part of ourselves which is content in that moment, we naturally allow the light to do what it does best; to burn.
[This photo is a multiple-exposure, consisting of 3 exposed images layered within the camera itself using fully mechanical means. Instead of advancing the film after each shot, a lever can be pressed and the shutter re-cocked without the film advancing to the next frame. All the photographer has to do is remember the composition of the first shot when framing the second, and so on. Additionally, the photo must be underexposed by 1 or 2 stops, so that the final result, if shooting 3 images, will be properly exposed. This photo was taken using my Nikon FE2 and shooting Kodak Portra 160, which is well known for its fine grain, and overall reddish-pinkish hue.]
(Photo & Text by Marty Miller)