It’s likely that photography aficionados attending Marders’ April 26 Artist Talk & Book Signing will understand the subtitle of Brad Oliphant’s handsome 10” X 12” volume, “Solarized Floral Diptych Photographs,” but it’s possible that even they may miss the ambiguity of the title, Enlightened Blooms (Glitterati Inc.). The title refers to both Oliphant’s process of desaturation and solarization and to the final effects he achieves—images of the same flower, photos in reverse across a double page, the same image in different shades, colors, size, focus and mood, depending on amount of exposure to light. Starting with black-and-white prints, Oliphant examines the floral images for form and texture. Then, like a painter, he reintroduces color slowly, in stages, and finally, with Photoshop, he creates variations on a theme, images that are at once vibrant and restrained.
In an informative forward, Russell Hart, the former executive editor of American Photo (who also wrote Photography for Dummies), refers to Oliphant’s technique as “creative manipulation,” a desaturation-solarization process that relies on intuition as well as artistic and technical expertise—not to mention patience. Oliphant uses a tripod (nearly all of his work is done in the field) and adjusts for slow shutter speed. In the post-production phase, he works color back in by way of layers of different exposures, keeping an un-manipulated image on raw file and in his memory. Some of the more striking florals in the book evidence both black-and-white and color in the same image, silvery traces along with bold hues.
Oliphant loves what he’s doing now. After years as an award-winning high-end fashion photographer (Vogue, Marie Claire, Mademoiselle), he “reinvented” himself as a “consummate photographer of flowers.” Nature, he says in the book’s brief introduction, was always his love, and the flower, without question, is “Nature’s most seductive invitation to a photographer”—and no doubt most selectively demanding, given the 260,000 species of flowering plants around the world. For more than 40 years Oliphant has been photographing flowers, doing mostly elegant pastel arrangements, but now they’re “center stage” in his professional life, opening new perspectives. He changes familiar settings on his camera, studies the work of others for “tips and tricks” and goes through trial and effort. He confesses that at first he over-saturated over-exposed negatives, but eventually he saw how he could modulate the beauty of some of the odd colors he was getting and they became “frontline” on his palette.
Both Oliphant and Hart analogize the images here to music, particularly jazz riffs on familiar songs, though the general reader or everyday camera enthusiast may not easily appreciate the comparison. Certainly paintings will come to mind—a series on a weeping cherry that resembles a Jackson Pollock, a calla lily and a red heart hibiscus that recall the anatomical erotica of Georgia O’Keeffe, flower patterns that look like medical pictures—IV drips in a bleeding heart, neurons in a spider orchid, cells in a rosa damascena, one kind of art teased into suggesting another.
Enlightened Blooms talk and book signing, Sunday, April 26, at 11 a.m. at Marders Garden Center and Nursery, 120 Snake Hollow Road, Bridgehampton, marders.com, 631-537-3700