In this body of work, I have sought to purposefully, consciously, explicitly embrace the demised, the maligned, the blemished, the slightly broken, and the ordinary in order to reframe and reconstruct other forms of beauty. These images don’t conform to the idea of perfection, rather they explicitly refocus the gaze on the beauty of subtle vulnerability and reality. For me, there is beauty in the way we as human beings carry the marks, the blemishes, and the knots. This is the beauty of a life lived, the beauty of imperfection.
The flowers are mostly gathered from friends’ gardens or roadside plantings. The flowers aren’t necessarily all imperfect, some you wouldn’t expect to see in a vase: weeds … dandelions, scotch thistle and even plain old grass. Others are left to over ripen and droop. Once I uncoupled myself from the search for ‘perfect’ flowers, I started seeing things differently. I became drawn to the idea of elevating the humble and the overlooked, the faded and the forgotten, the emerging decay of what was once supposedly perfect.
These images are assembled in the midst of the busy chaotic comings and goings of my family life. There is a ledge that buttresses the stairwell by my front door that sits in the ever changing light as a given day progresses. This is where the flowers and vases sit through the course of several days as the natural light changes reflecting the varied times of day, the weather, and the seasons. The time noted within each title refers to the exact moment the image was captured. The timing of the image capture is important as the decay can become too overriding and obvious.
But from a distance, the images can have the semblance of ‘perfect,’ but on closer inspection it is apparent that things are on the turn. Because complete disintegration is not the point. These are not conventional flower arrangements. I love the double-take, inevitably, all is not as it seems.
Sometimes I would wake up to find my arrangements crawling with ants, a praying mantis living on a sunflower, flies landing on falling peonies. My toddler helped mum by placing a battered monarch butterfly wing on the ledge. I let this all happen and captured it in all its honesty. I think it makes these arrangements appear even more alive, and accentuates the ordinariness of the everyday context that these images are captured in within the midst of family life.
There is a strong aesthetic that I draw upon when I compose these arrangements. I choose the vases for their composition and form. These are artworks in the traditional sense but they move beyond what normal flower arrangements are meant to be, and there is a conscious digression from perfection to create other forms of beauty.
When constructing the arrangements I am looking to create harmony and tension, but then I use my compositional skills to purposefully pre-compose the arrangements. It’s a zen moment for me … when I do these arrangements I get into a completely joyous state. It’s a form of meditation. It’s intuitive. It just happens. I find this as natural as breathing.
I put a great deal of thought into the synergy of the vase and the flowers. The union needs to be greater than the sum of its parts. My evergrowing collection of flower-holders is integral to this.
Sometimes the process of creating an image begins with a vase, I have become an EBay vase aficionado. I will often find a beautiful vase and ponder for a while what to arrange in it. Sometimes I know instantly what will go in it, and sometimes it takes a long time to figure out what to marry it with. Other times I see a particular type of plant or flower that I am intrigued by, or I see a specific bloom that I am compelled to photograph because of the patterning of hail marks, lost petals, or quirky beautiful fragility. Or just something about the shape and form of the bloom strikes me as beautiful, because once I freed myself of having to conform to a particular form of beauty, all manner of possibilities have opened up.
I love the contrast between the permanence of the vessel and the impermanence of the flora, within the images. Inevitably several of my vases have been broken through normal family life whirling around them, and I have had these repaired with Kintsugi, the ancient Japanese tradition of mending broken pottery with gold-enriched resin, which is said to render the object more beautiful than before it was broken.
I perceive the vases as metaphors, as vessels. Our bodies are vessels. Women are vessels that carry children. These vessels are the containers of our lives, and metaphorically the flowers are the life force in all its permutations.
For me, imperfection is the essence of beauty.
Emma Bass 2014