Photographs by Barbara Bordnick
When one of the nation's most acclaimed fashion photographers, Barbara Bordnick, decided to put out a book of her latest work, no one was surprised. But when the subject of that book wasn't haute couture, but flowers, everyone was blown away. A fashion show indeed, "Searchings: Secret Landscapes of Flowers," features tulips and peonies and amaryllises strutting about in Mother Nature's most breathtaking designs. "In the flower genre--which has become a predictable cliché--Barbara has invented a new visual experience," writes legendary photographer Duane Michaels. "Rather than merely being dazzled by their beauty, she has entered into each flower and takes us on a journey of erotic discovery in this new sensual landscape. Her intimacy with the flowers enchants and delights." The following are excerpts from an interview in Bordnick's New York studio.
Barbara, you're so well known as a fashion photographer and portraitist, how did "Searchings" come about?
Barbara: It all happened because a model didn't show up for a shoot. I was supposed to do some photographs that day for Canon on its new D30 digital camera. Since I had no model, I began playing around with the camera. I had some flowers on my table, so I decided to photograph them. When I looked through the lens, I couldn't believe what I saw; I wondered where I'd been until then.
When I photographed the first flower, a door opened to a magical place. I felt like I was doing portraits of them. I have a horrible tendency to anthropomorphize, and the more time I spent with the flowers, the more I began to understand their inner lives, some part of their spirituality. I made the flowers into people; as a photographer I need that interaction.
Can you describe your approach to portraiture?
Barbara: I teach, and I tell my students that the most difficult form of photography is portraiture. Its incredibly presumptuous of me to think that in the limited time I have with someone I don't know, that I can reach a point where something authentic happens between us. But when that moment is captured, a person viewing it sees and feels it, too. That shared moment between the photographer and the subject becomes something universal that we all share. The essence of a person is more than a moment, which a photo can't encompass. Nothing can. But we are all made of many moments and experiences, and capturing one of those moments is my job. I tell my students that's a really difficult thing to do, and a really huge accomplishment for any photographer.
Here you are, Barbara, someone who has such a successful career but seems so unafraid to go where her heart wants to take her.
Barbara: If someone believes in me, I rarely let them down. But the flowers were all mine. I didn't need anyone to believe in me. That's why I didn't tell anyone about the book during the year I took to shoot it. I didn't want someone's eyes gazing over as they were thinking, "Another book about flowers." I didn't want to have to say it, but it's not like other flower books. So I waited until I was finished to show people.
The first "Searchings" book led to a second and to a third (Welcome books, each $40, available here)