So often we take a step back to enjoy our gardens, viewing them from the distant point of a patio chair or even from inside. But how often do we take a closer look to appreciate the beauty of nature? Macro plant photography changes our perspective, and takes us into the fine details of a plant…
Marius Grose is a fine art photographer based in Bristol. He is currently working on a series called ‘Plant Portraits’, where he uses macro plant photography to explore life in his garden.
My sister and I were introduced to gardening as soon as our mother felt we were able to handle a trowel. Around the age of ten my father introduced me to photography. Later when I was at art school I discovered macro photography through the work of Karl Blossfeldt. Blossfeldt used marco photography of plant material to teach pattern and decoration at The College of Fine Arts, Berlin in the 1920s; over his life time he created an archive of more than thirty thousand images derived from leaves, stems and other plant material.
In 2007 I purchased my first digital SLR camera, a Pentax K10, to photograph a trip I made with my partner to New Zealand. After this trip I didn’t want to put the camera away till the next holiday – I wanted to make more images. Standing in my garden one spring day I remembered Blossfeldt’s macro images and the idea to do something similar with the plants in my garden was born.
I started on a journey into my garden, into the hidden, the overlooked, into close up, extreme close up. Using macro photography techniques I explored the shape, structure, texture and pattern of plants. This project stretched over eight years as I learnt the craft of macro photography and followed the seasonal changes.
I set a myself a few rules. I would not buy plants especially to photograph, I restricted myself to plants already growing in the garden. This meant that on occasion I would photograph what we think of as weeds such as the hooked seed heads of wood avens (Geum urbanum).
I find the visual rhythm of the spines on the seed head fascinating.
I fight a perennial battle with bind weed (Calystegia sepium) however there is a beauty to the pure white trumpet flowers.
I also decided that I would take the plant material out of its natural context much as Blossfeldt had done. Placing the leaves, flowers and stems on a plain background allows the shape and structures to speak more clearly. I chose to use black velvet or white card to make a solid background. Black has particular way of making colours richer, more vibrant, it also gives a sense of the images floating in limitless space.
On the days I wanted to make images I would go out into the garden and search for what was interesting at that time. I would scour beds and borders looking under leaves, thinking about how to treat potential candidates. Sometimes I would get the shot, sometimes not.
I tried several times to capture the luminous green of Japanese horsetails (Equisetum japonicum) that I had planted as a pond marginal. The shots I got were in focus and well lit but the plant looked flat and boring. It wasn’t till one day I was sitting on a wall in the garden enjoying a bit of sun that I noticed light was shining through the stems of the plants. A penny dropped – I needed to back light the plants. I cut some stems and the strange flower heads, sliced them in half with a sharp knife, stuck them to a piece of plate glass with blu-tac that I backed with tracing paper and shone a light through the glass. With a bit of front flash to bring out the details, I got these images:
Back lighting opened up new possibilities. For instance when the rainbow chard in the vegetable plot bolted, I took the now tough and grooved stems and shone a light through them. The result is a picture that reminds me of seaside rock:
Focusing in on a tiny leaf or flower transforms our perception of it, reveals hidden aspects. Tendrils of the ornamental vine (Vitis coignetiae) look like abstract drawings on white paper:
Focusing on the tip of the stamen of a Geranium and letting the petals become soft and out of focus creates a dreamy, almost romantic, image:
Working and exploring the garden in this way has changed the way I look and think about plants, I am more aware of the details, the shapes, the strange beauty that lies waiting to be discovered.
After eight years I had enough images to self publish a book “Green Eye. A garden in close up”, a preview of which can be found at this address: http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/6095704-green-eye
I continue to make Plant Portraits and post them on my website: photography.mariusgrose.co.uk