This book deserves more than five stars. It is the finest set of flower photography that I have seen before, and presents more dimensions of what a flower can mean that I would have thought possible.
I took a course of creativity from author Dan Wakefield a number of years ago. One of the many excellent exercises we did was to take a flower and write as much as we could about what we observed during an hour. At the end of the time, I was bursting with new ideas for all kinds of things. Try it sometime!
Seeing this marvelous book by Robert Mapplethorpe (that would earn a G rating if it were a motion picture) reminded me of that exercise. I had the same feeling as I examined each image, and had a great desire to start taking notes.
The essay, A Final Flower, by Patti Smith helps put these great works in perspective. Mr. Mapplethorpe found it "as easy to hurl beauty as anything else." "He came, in time, to embrace the flower as the embodiment of all the contradictions reveling within [him]." He was inspired by "their sleekness, their fullness, Humble narcissus, Passionate zen." As such, he found flowers to be "worthy conspirators in the courting and development of conflicting emotions."
The images themselves evoke more complicated views than any others of flowers that I have seen. The closest to his style is that which Georgia O'Keeffe used in her painings. But there are more dimensions to these photographs.
For example, a single flower may evoke a part of a human body, but it will also stimulate an impression of a human emotion contained in the flower image separate from the body part. Further, the shadowed background behind the flower will add movement and context that greatly expand the meaning of the overall image. Mr. Mapplethorpe also displays a genius for using varieties of color together to express complicated rhythms that make looking at the images a lot like listening to a drum beating a distinctive tattoo. He also employs juxtaposition (to make one thing appear to be part of something else), allusions to emerging and receding, and contrasts to great effect.
The technical quality of the images is superb. The lighting, detail, and composition of each image are precisely as must have been intended. Each image is an exquisite gem. Although I liked all of the images, some appealed to me more than others. Here are my favorites:
Irises, 1988; Rose, 1989; Orchid, 1977; White Longstem Flower, 1982; Orchids, 1982; Orchid, 1986; Flowers in a Vase, 1985; Orchids, 1987; and Poppy, 1988 (second one). I would like to specially praise the astonishing Calla Lilies (1985-1988) for their amazing beauty and inspiring qualities.
Where else can something simple display so much important meaning and complexity about nature and the viewer? I suggest that you consider looking at leaves, rocks, and feathers as possible additional sources of inspiration. Try your hand at arranging tableaux that use the vocabulary of Mr. Mapplethorpe's work here.
May your heart and mind be suffused with the wonders around you . . . creating a meditation inspired by nature!