The Photographer's Mail - - Personal -

For decades, flow­ers have in­spired peo­ple as sym­bols of fem­i­nin­ity, of beauty, and of grace. And that’s es­pe­cially so for artists, though not all artists’ flow­ers are the same — as a brief glance at Luc Tuy­mans’ Orchid, Monet’s Wa­ter Lilies, Helmut New­ton’s bou­quets, and Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe’s

Red Canna will il­lus­trate. This same flo­ral in­spi­ra­tion has prompted an­other artist to flower — Karen Ishig­uro, whose en­dur­ing per­sonal project,

HANA, builds on a rich and var­ied his­tory of artists de­pict­ing flora.

In this on­go­ing photo series, Ishig­uro’s tal­ent for cap­tur­ing images of fem­i­nine beauty in the stu­dio com­bines with a fresh en­thu­si­asm for flo­ral ar­range­ments. Del­i­cate blos­soms — from calla lilies and chrysan­the­mums to laven­der and roses — adorn her sit­ters in a series of sen­sual black-and-white por­traits.

The con­cept for the per­sonal project in its in­fancy was fea­tured by The Pho­tog­ra­pher’s Mail back in 2014. The idea grew out of a spon­ta­neous mo­ment and was un­earthed by a de­ci­sion to col­lab­o­rate. Ishig­uro was do­ing a test shoot with a model when she had the idea of invit­ing her friend, a florist, to par­tic­i­pate. Af­ter some ad­vice on how a calla lily might be ma­nip­u­lated to bend around the curve of the model’s neck, the project be­gan to bloom.

“It was only meant to be a one-off shoot,” Ishig­uro shares. “But, as soon as I was done, I re­al­ized I could do so much more with so many dif­fer­ent other flow­ers and mod­els. It made me re­ally ex­cited to see how far I could go.”

Shoot­ing with a Bron­color Para 220 re­flec­tor um­brella cou­pled with a Scoro, Ishig­uro po­si­tions the light from be­hind, al­low­ing it to cast across the scene evenly, and veil her sub­ject’s fea­tures in a soft, even light. In a set-up that would seem pared-back to most, Ishig­uro sim­ply works be­tween 85mm and 50mm Nikkor f/1.4 lenses, mounted upon her trusted Nikon D800 body.

From the very first shot, Ishig­uro was in­trigued by the idea of shoot­ing beau­ti­ful women with flow­ers, high­lighted in soft light, as sen­sual, emo­tive por­traits. Though the works cen­tre on what’s of­ten de­fined as the ‘tra­di­tion­ally’ fem­i­nine, it’s not a

tone that Ishig­uro in­ten­tion­ally adds to the work. The grace­ful en­ergy that en­com­passes each im­age is some­thing that comes about nat­u­rally — per­haps, in part, as the ex­pres­sion of her own tem­per­a­ment.

“I don’t re­ally think about mak­ing an im­age more ‘fem­i­nine’, which I am grate­ful for,” Ishig­uro says. “I think my en­tire body of work can be summed up as a cel­e­bra­tion of fem­i­nin­ity. Not just in the sense of ‘women’ but the soft­ness and gen­tle­ness the word car­ries.”

“Ev­ery­one and any­thing can be fem­i­nine,” she adds.

El­e­gance and grace are ap­par­ent in all Ishig­uro’s aes­thetic de­ci­sions, in­clud­ing her com­po­si­tional choices. The images see botan­i­cals ef­fort­lessly re­flect the unique fea­tures of her sit­ters, while her sit­ters, in turn, re­flect the del­i­cate and joy­ful at­tributes of the re­spec­tive flower va­ri­ety. Each en­hances the other with a sim­plic­ity sel­dom seen. In the monochrome works, the gen­tle curve of the lily’s stem mir­rors the con­tour of the sub­ject’s neck; long stems of laven­der en­tan­gle an­other’s cas­cade of hair; and fine rose­buds frame a face, in­ten­si­fy­ing the sub­ject’s pierc­ing stare.

“The way it bends, shapes and moves in the wind …,” Ishig­uro muses, “all of these things are im­por­tant to me.”

Ishig­uro achieves this sense of ef­fort­less el­e­gance by al­low­ing her shoot to de­velop in a spon­ta­neous, and or­ganic way. She never has her mind set on an imag­ined out­come, and her shoot­ing style al­lows her­self to re­main open to oth­ers’ in­put.

“I don’t think about the flow­ers or the model un­til I am on set and ready to go,” she ex­plains. “Some­times, hav­ing a de­tailed plan doesn’t al­low you to freely think of new ideas. You’re es­sen­tially stuck with this plan. I hate that. I like col­lab­o­ra­tion, a

com­ing-to­gether-ness of things. I like that per­haps the model might sug­gest putting the flower in her hair, or that she sug­gests stick­ing the stem onto her col­lar­bone so that it hangs off from be­hind her.

“In that re­spect, I like to think I am best por­tray­ing the girl and flower in the most nat­u­ral form. Thus, en­hanc­ing each other’s beauty.”

But beauty doesn’t just run sur­face deep — and Ishig­uro’s images aren’t only about the pair­ing of two pretty things. Keenly in­ter­ested in the sym­bol­ism be­hind each botan­i­cal, and its ori­gins, she con­sid­ers the con­no­ta­tions of each va­ri­ety be­fore pair­ing a flower with its muse. This in­ter­est in the mean­ing of flow­ers so preva­lent within the work is al­luded to within the series’ ti­tle — HANA — a Ja­panese word, the English equiv­a­lent be­ing ‘flower’.

“I like to learn about the flow­ers that I am shoot­ing, as I find it in­ter­est­ing to see where it orig­i­nated,” says Ishig­uro.

“I’m also in­ter­ested in flow­ers that may not usu­ally get a men­tion in a tra­di­tional sense. I al­ways like sup­port­ing the un­der­dog. I was se­cretly cring­ing a bit when I shot the rose, be­cause I think it’s so old and typ­i­cal now — ‘Oh, you’re do­ing a flower shoot, and you shot a rose? Of course you are.’ I want to keep shoot­ing in­ter­est­ing flow­ers as much as pos­si­ble.”

With their light-hearted trans­fer­ral of sym­bolic mean­ings, the pho­to­graphs re­mind of Gertrude Stein’s quasi-quo­ta­tion, ‘rose is a rose is a rose’. With each it­er­a­tion of the word, and with each de­pic­tion of the flower, new mean­ings and as­so­ci­a­tions are ex­pressed.

The treat­ment is so sim­ple and joy­ful that it al­most ap­pears to claim, ‘some­times a flower is just a flower’. To this, I sus­pect Ishig­uro would re­ply, ‘Is it?’ Fol­low HANA, as it con­tin­ues to evolve, at karen­ishig­uro.com.

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