Working in projects and series- winter tulips, part one


Gasoline is expensive now. Photography at home rocks.

The idea

Sometime last December I bought a bouquet of tulips from Trader Joes’ to decorate my home. The next day I noticed that the flowers lacked that vitality typical of spring tulips. They seemed less turgid, more malleable, and more prone to developing interesting curves in their stalks and leaves. I put them under the camera and a new project was born, Winter Tulips.

The research

Photographing tulips in black and white with emphasis on their curves is far from an original idea. I knew, going in, that my monochromatic tulips were going to have lots of brothers and sisters out there, perhaps even an identical twin. To avoid redundancy, I did a quick search on google for “tulips in black and white”, and that returned hundreds of entries. 

The beautiful work of Yoichiro Nishimura

One body of work called my attention for depicting my initial “vision” for this project very closely: the tulips in black and white by the Japanese photographer Yoichiro Nishimura: very white flowers on black background, emphasizing, among other aspects, their curves. You can easily collect one of his photographs for 4,000. I also found similar images by other photographers selling for an infinitesimal fraction of Nishimura’s photos, some of which pleased just me as much.

The execution

Keeping in mind what I don’t want my photos to look like (the work of well-established artists) , I started my little project. Every Saturday or so I buy a bouquet of unopened flowers at Trader Joe’s and I photograph each interesting flower over the following days. 

I have a semi-permanent set up in the guest room (see below for photo), which I use to take one photo with the black background. I swap the background to white, and grey, to get a feel for how these flowers look on different tones. I then change the angle of the subject, and repeat. When I am done with all the angles of one flower, I pick another, until I have explored all suitable flowers in the bouquet. When I am done, I have three sets of photographs, one with a black background, and one with a “white” background (more on that later), and one on grey. The whole process takes about a couple of hours, and I end up with three possible monochromatic series within the same project, one on black, and one on white.

Although I tend to work on black background with the lens closed down, I sort of like the grey background for the subject in the featured image, which I photographed at f/3.5. The grey gives me a little flexibility to have a spot of light right in the middle of the frame, where I want to emphasize shape. 

My set up.

Projects versus series

Last year I wrote a sequence of posts about working in projects, and I used my project “Folhas Secas” as an example. My goal in that project was to show that dried leaves are interesting and still beautiful. The output of that effort was a series of pictures that have several common elements, for instance a black background, same crop ratio, etc.

There are no hard definitions of “project” and “series” in art. There are no authorities to enforce them either, so you can make up your own definitions if you don’t agree with me. I think that, to work in a project, one only needs a unifying concept, but to produce a series, one needs a set of boundaries to present that concept in a cohesive way.

I am still working on how I want the final look of my images to be, and that exploration is both fun and frustrating.

On my next post, hopefully, I will have made up my mind.

Resources

Digital Photography School has an article summarizing the benefits of and giving tips about working in projects, if you are interested: How to start and finish a photography project.

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Published by Alessandra Chaves

Photographer with a preference for nature photography in black and white and other abstractions.

27 thoughts on “Working in projects and series- winter tulips, part one

  1. I really love the tulips. Love the black and white. It has a very nice peaceful feeling attached to it. And… it really is ‘ all about the light ‘ with this piece … that is your boundary … which means you really shouldn’t have one…. as long as there is light just keep going as you wish. Why limit yourself with boundaries. That would be a personal creative punishment that just holds you back. I know that is not you. No way.

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    1. Thanks for your insights and kind words. I love the term “personal creative punishment”. Lol. I think I’ll adopt it. It is interesting to think in these terms because sometimes I do punish myself over nothing important and fir no good reason! I think everyone does, to a certain extent.

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      1. I believe as long as you continue to enjoy the process from beginning to end then you’ll always be content with your photographs. It really is as simple as that. You have to mute those nagging voices that don’t allow you to do your thing from within. That thing that makes you feel good when you are done. That thing that is unique to you. And it is that thing that sets you apart from others. You are there. Please continue.

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  2. Your black and white tulip picture certainly brings out the subject’s forms. Most (all?) the tulip pictures I’ve seen show fully open flowers, so you already have a head start on originality by focusing on different things.

    Deciding what to include in a series and what to exclude sometimes isn’t easy. Pictures that are too similar add nothing new, while a picture that’s too different from the group may suggest it doesn’t belong in the set.

    I looked at Yoichiro Nishimura’s website. He seems to have taken most of the pictures shown there with a film camera rather than a digital one. In the 1990 there wasn’t yet a choice.

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    1. Your observation about the fully open tulips is correct. I ended up calling these winter tulips in part because invariably they fail to open.or if they do, they quickly start losing petals and curl down, like an arrested development. Yes it’s hard to chose the elements of a series. Did you look at Nishimura’s scanned blue flowers? I found that particularly pleasing and original.

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      1. Yes, I’d looked at his “scangrams” and found them intriguing. In at least some of them he changed the original colors. For example, the center of the daisy would originally have been yellow athttps://www.yoichironishimura.com/photographs-scangram?pgid=jlufgwn2-e8a4f13f-8d06-4733-a1d3-95f09144271e

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  3. This appears to be another nice project just like your previous ” “Folhas Secas”” turned out. There is indeed a lot of nice photography to be done at home, just outside your home, and not too far from your home. I don’t travel much at all, an annual trip to Maine is about it. The majority of my photography is within 50 miles of my home (most within 20) which is not much compared to what many do. It is very good to get to know your area, there are a lot of interesting subjects close by.
    As far as frustration goes, I am currently reading Guy Tal’s recent book, “Another Day Not Wasted” and the chapter I just finished had to do with the pleasure of the process. The undertaking, the love of what you are doing, is more to be appreciated than whether or not the outcome is fantastic or not. Of course we do want some successes, but what is not successful is educational and takes us a step further to happiness in our pursuit.
    I have an acquaintance locally who does a lot of scanning of flowers and mushrooms. His work is pretty good. He decided on a scanner because it was different and he felt his photographic skills were wanting. Not sure about his reasoning as he does nice work with the scanner. https://www.scannography.org/artists/Klein-Marty.html

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    1. Thanks for your kind words. Where I live is the Central Valley of California and as far as botanicals go, it’s very nice, but scenery is best about 70 miles east ( mountains) or west ( ocean). In the spring, the nearby chaparral, with grass, hills and oak trees, is also very pretty. You are right in that the journey is at least as important as ir more important than, the destination in photography. Your acquaintance’ s work is very beautiful and detailed, I’m very impressed. I don’t think I have as much patience!

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      1. Someone else’s work you might find interesting, if you have not already seen it, is Huntington Witherill. His work, Botanical Dances, is a combination of backgrounds from painters and his photographs of various flowers and ferns. Maybe not exactly what you are after but worth a look and possibly food for ideas of your own.

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  4. This is going to be a really wonderful project and different from most in many ways. Black and white. Past the prime. Drooping. Can’t wait to see more!

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  5. Hope you don’t mind my saying that the original color of the one in the demo adds an inviting appeal over the austerity of bw.

    And I think you might mean “rigid,” stiff, or straight rather than “turgid” for newly bought flowers.

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    1. I don’t mind that you have.preferences that differ from mine, but know that the tulip in color is not the same as the one in b&b, which is actually white originally. As for the word, you are probably right. Thanks for stopping by.

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