Monday, October 7, 2019

Botanic Garden Reflections

Class Assignment: A Stroll with Theophrastus

Walking, the class is tasked with taking a picture and in sitting down at the site where the picture was taken, and having both the photograph and the natural subject as reference material are asked with pencil and paper to describe in the most specific and eloquent way which essential quality the photograph is meant to capture and express.

The class will take turns reading their descriptions aloud, and will engage in conversation about the essential quality of each photograph's subject, as claimed by its photographer.

The two "pictures" will be considered a diptych, and may be complicated further if a drawing is included.

Images and Writing

Scanning, looking and questioning: What is it that caught my attention?

Stopping to make a photograph, one leads to another. Stepping away. Sitting down to write. Comparing what’s on the camera screen with what’s in front of me and what I imagined. The whole process one of slowing down. Looking broadly. Looking closely. Seeing how the different moments come together in the image. Or fail to come together.

What resonance is there beyond a well composed, well exposed image?

#1: Head of Grass

A mound of grass - a head of hair wanting to be brushed - something amusing in a plant looking human, above bright flowers and the flow of water
Larry Wolf, Head of Grass (2019)


Of the five photos made of this mound of grass, the last, from a distance, looking back, speaks to me the most.

What was intended as a context shot seems to tell the whole story and is also visually the strongest. It shows the created symmetry of the formal gardens. These are not wild grasses, wild flowers or free flowing water. Contained. Ordered. Manicured. A garden is a created thing. It is also an exercise in giving up control - the growth of the plants, the decay of the structures, the unpredictable weather.

Making an image is also working with the materials at hand, the objects, the light, movement, stillness, the technical capabilities of the technology and the experience of the photographer. The mound of grass stands proudly at the center of the garden.

#2: Standing on Water

I was drawn to the leafy water plant among the waterlilies - got up close to what I imagined.
Larry Wolf, Standing on Water (2019)


The image shows the structure and texture of the plant above the water. The waterlilies and clump of plants on the edge provide context. Shadowlike, the dark reflections further enhance the shape of the plants. There is mystery here. Are the dark leaves reflections? Shadows? Another plant?

#3: Red Rose

“Single” red rose floating in a sea of green, through a break in the trees. Can I capture the sense of surprise?
Larry Wolf, Red Rose (2019)


In the image, other red roses also float above the foliage. None of the roses are in focus. Perhaps it works better this way, a smear of red, multiple dots of red rose. There are little red berries in the trees. More here than originally seen.

#4: Arches into Garden

Ceramic tile half pipes set in a brick wall, allowing a view into the other side. People walk by. Wait. There will be more.
Larry Wolf, Arches into Garden (2019)


The brightness and the darkness across the frame and coming through from the garden. The arches of ceramic creating frames within the frame. The visual field cut into repeating, non-rectangular, pieces.

The ceramic window creates a substantial barrier to the garden on the other side. Sound and light may travel through but I cannot. I’m blocked off. I can see small parts of the garden through the multiple tunnels of view through the tile. They guide my eye and keep me at a distance. A very solid fence that I can see through but cannot reach through, cannot touch what lies on the other side.

#5: Cabbages!

A sea of cabbages. Ornamental. Edible.
Larry Wolf, Cabbages (2019)


This is the fourth shot of cabbages in this garden. The leaves curling around the center of the plant. The whole bed bursting with them. The layers of garden up and down the frame: sidewalk, cabbages, brick wall, hedge, trees.

More cultivation and wildness. The abundance of the cabbages. The hard surface of the walkway and the wall. The multiple horizontal stripes create a layering and are also a flat surface. There is abundance and it is locked in the aesthetics of the garden. Visual nourishment, not bodily sustenance.

#6: Square Tree

A giant hedgerow of trees. What’s the right angle to show them?
Larry Wolf, Square Tree (2019)


A pair. Isolated. Yet caught in the visual chatter of the other trees. The flat white sky is a perfect surface to backlight the texture of the tree, the artificial shape it has been pruned to.

3pm: Chimes

Heard and not seen. No photograph.


Time is passing while I wander making photographs. People swirl about in constellations, individuals orbiting around their groups’ moving centers of gravity. I have my own momentum through the gardens, stopping, seeing, exposing, reviewing, writing.

The chimes stop my activity for a moment. I shift into my body. Standing. Listening. Feeling the passing of time. Attentive and relaxed.

#7: Water

The surface of the water catches the light, shows cross-currents of motion, bright and dark spots dance across its surface.

Ripples and reflections in the water. Sacred island in the distance. How to get just the water? How to show this pond as vast?
Larry Wolf, Water 7a (2019)

Larry Wolf, Water 7b (2019)


Which image to choose? Here is a pair with no land, no trees. Light and dark. Mystery and also simply water. Boundaryless. Fluid and static. A moment.

#8: Sunflower Bride

Flowers scattered across a lawn. Large sunflowers on short stalks… get up close… shoot low and up into the flowerhead. Fighting with framing and exposure and focus and wind.

Then, walking along the path in the distance, a pair of photographers, the groom, the bride. They appeared suddenly. The camera remained on the exposure for the closeup of the flower.
Larry Wolf, Sunflower 8a (2019)

Larry Wolf, Sunflower 8b (2019)

Larry Wolf, Sunflower 8c (2019)


This feels like a sketch of what I wanted. The rough texture of the seeds. The jagged edges of the petals surrounding the seed head. The white, burnt out, sky. The finality of the season. A fierce ring of teeth surrounds the mouth filled with seeds, the fruit of the summer. The white petals bite into the seeds. Like bones bleached in the desert sun, a ring of death surrounds the future life.

The people walking behind the flower, overexposed, burnt out yet clearly visible. The wedding may represent a new beginning, yet they feel (to me) like a medieval theater troupe, moving through the landscape, bringing welcome distraction during the Black Plague. In 8b, the first man carries a black hood, the second man has his hands raised in prayer, or so I see it. In 8c, the groom, in black, is cut through, while the bride, in white, is a hole in the image, her hands holding a bouquet of flowers, an echo of the sunflower with its strong stem, her face and hair the only bit of human texture.


It is the beginning of autumn. The great wheel of the seasons is turning. The plants are still vigorous and, in their maturity, signaling they will soon perish, that winter is not far away.

These are formal images. Surfaces that are meant to hold the viewer’s attention with texture and light and shape.

Where is the photographer, in these images? Playful and serious. Seeking and discovering.

There is a joyful exploration at the beginning, the humor of grass that looks like hair, the pop of color with the rose, light and darkness in water, a sunflower at the end of the season, the wedding party caught as ghosts.

Footnote on Theophrastus

Theophrastus (c. 371 – c. 287 BC), a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos, was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school. ... Theophrastus presided over the Peripatetic school for thirty-six years, during which time the school flourished greatly. He is often considered the father of botany for his works on plants.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

More Or Less Transparent

Looking from the W Hotel to the Treasury Building, Washington DC, September 25, 2019.

Here are 4 of the 18 images in the series.
Larry Wolf, More Or Less Transparent (2019)
Larry Wolf, More Or Less Transparent (2019)
Larry Wolf, More Or Less Transparent (2019)
Larry Wolf, More Or Less Transparent (2019)

Lillstreet Photobook Library
Five prototype booklets were created, one of which now resides at the Lillstreet Photobook Library.