Calla Lily - Rob's Daily Blog

Discussion in 'Competitions, Themes & Blogs' started by Rob MacKillop, Mar 6, 2015.

  1. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    I'm glad this is a theme and not a competition, in that the end result is, for me, not as important as the journey. That's why I thought of jotting down my thoughts and experiences as I go about acquiring and shooting the Calla Lily. Your comments are welcome, though don't feel you have to respond to every update I make.

    The theme has come at the right time for me, as I have started exploring still life photography, and flower shots have a long tradition in that genre. Although my comments so far in that regard have been to do with mastering exposure, my private thoughts have been more about the meaning of the final image, and also the meaning of the engagement in doing any form of still life.

    We have a photography gallery in the centre of Edinburgh called Stills, and the word has been used for decades in contradistinction to movies. There is the sense that a still-life image is of something that has been caught in a moment - the arrangement "just so", the light "just so". But this is an illusion, as life - including the life of the still image - is constantly in flow. I'm reminded of the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, saying that "One can and cannot step into the same river twice" - the river is the same, but the waters are constantly new.

    To develop this idea of the two rivers: One river is the image, apparently always the same, and able to be reproduced in an identical way. The other river is the living experience of both the viewer and the flower - forever flowing, never for a moment the same. It is this contradiction which lies at the heart of the Still Life, the two-word description being wholly apt.

    There is also another slant to the word "still", as in "The river is still flowing" - a continuance, giving birth to new life. The word play is something that appeals to me.

    I went to a local flower shop today, and asked for a Calla or Arum lily. The lady said she had one in the back. She came up with four, which she claimed were set aside for another job which only required three. So I was given one - no choice was allowed. At first glance they all looked the same to me, so I accepted the offering. It cost £3. What surprised me was that it did not look like what I was expecting: white petals and a yellow protrudence. This one is red or dark pink, with the central part hidden beneath the folds of the leaves or petals. It seems I have a lot to learn about this flower.

    It sits in an old beer bottle on my desk. Here's a quick, careless iPhone snap, as I write this. It'll do for now. Our relationship has just begun. We both have much to learn.

    That's enough for one day!

    photo-3 copy.JPG
  2. Pete Askew

    Pete Askew Admin

    Wonderful idea, Rob and a tantalising first shot. With the lap and the closed blind there is a real sense of intimacy here, probably induced by your words. I'm looking forward to this. :)
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  3. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    It's morning. When I came into the room, the flower was leaning towards the daylight behind the closed blinds. I took a shot with the Hexar, which should reveal the flower in silhouette. The blinds are now open.

    I'm of half a mind to give the flower a name, as it feels awkward and somewhat cold to keep saying "the flower". So Cal it is, and her gender is female. But this leads me to ponder why we do such things, and I suppose the naming of nameless things is an attempt to bridge the apparent divide between "me" and the "other".

    Cal is rootless now, yet the mechanics of life still function, bending towards the sun in an age-old dance. Light gives life to flowers and to photographs.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2015
  4. Pete Askew

    Pete Askew Admin

    I knew I was going to enjoy this. What a wonderful early morning pondering. I have a tendency not to name things (maybe that is the scientist in me) but I like the concept of bridging a divide. I do get very emotionally attached to certain things though. And an interesting though about the mechanics of life still functioning. Which of course they are and the flower can still complete much of its 'purpose' in life even excised from the bulb.

    No flowers for me today (I go back to Potsdam next week) but I am off to find junk at a 'collectors' fair. Breakfast is done and dusted and I have a bit longer to enjoy Natalie Merchant before my friend arrives. :)
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  5. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    The great American 19th-century poet, Emily Dickinson, caused some controversy when she stated “The only Commandment I ever obeyed: ‘Consider the Lilies'.” She was referring to Luke 12:27:

    Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

    I knew of that quotation from one of Dickinson's letters, but the following short poem is new to me this afternoon:

    Through the Dark Sod — as Education —
    The Lily passes sure —
    Feels her white foot — no trepidation —
    Her faith — no fear –

    Afterward — in the Meadow –
    Swinging her Beryl Bell –
    The Mold-life — all forgotten — now –
    In Ecstasy — and Dell –

    Like most poems by great writers, there are levels and levels of interpretation to be had here. Few, if any, imagine she is really talking about a lily. Yet she was a keen gardener, and books have been written about her gardens and herbarium. Clearly plants stimulated her towards a creative contemplation of life.

    A simple interpretation of this poem would be that she is describing a lily's journey from bulb (the "white foot"), it's early struggles against life-threatening disease ("The Mold-life"), and it's eventual ecstatic experience in the meadow.

    Some critics see it as a description of her own spiritual, or sexual awakening; while many American critics, doubtless of a Christian background, struggle to accommodate Dickinson's avowed rejection of religion. It strikes me there might be another interpretation: her intellectual liberation through Reason ("Education"). Too simple, maybe.

    Whatever the interpretation, Dickinson wrote often of gardens and flowers, hinting at gardens and flowers of the mind. She seemed to be obsessed with the white lily, and for many years wore only white clothes. Eventually she became a recluse. She feared death, and it is interesting to learn that at the back of her house was a treeless graveyard.


    I took two shots this afternoon with the Mamiya RB67 Pro SD, 140mm 4.5 lens, with the Number One extension for a close-up of the flower head. I thought Velvia 100 ASA would relish the beautiful dark pinks and subtle greens of the flower. I'm still waiting for a Minolta light meter to arrive from Japan, so had to use the FotoMeterPro app, to determine the exposure. Fingers crossed...

    As I send my film away to get developed and scanned, I'll return to these ramblings eventually, inserting appropriate images in appropriate places.
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  6. Brian Moore

    Brian Moore Moderator

  7. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    Hey, Brian, it's me!
  8. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    I took some close up-ish shots today with the F4 and the RB67. I got interested in the stem as it enters and appears in the beer bottle - Cal's new home. I'm fascinated by this semi-life/death state, cut off from one's roots. As mentioned above, the mechanics of life still work - what difference from when the roots are attached? When does a flower die? Do the terms living and dying apply to flowers? Are there parallels with a comatose state of a human being? Or in a less prosaic sense, what does being cut off from one's roots mean to us?

    Here's one of Robert Mapplethorpe's lilies:

    Mapplethorpe Lily.jpg

    It looks like it is on a stage, spotlit in a moment of intense drama. It seems to be trying to reach out tenderly to its own shadow, trying to reach itself, caught in a balletic curiosity of self discovery. Beautiful.
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  9. Pete Askew

    Pete Askew Admin

    Or an organ in a fridge or tissue cells in a laboratory (is Henrietta Lacks immortal now?). If this were a Carnation and not a Calla, roots might form and you would be looking at the emergence of a new individual. Will the image of "Cala' carry 'her' form into the future like the portraits of you after you have gone? What fragment of that life has been captured, and how has it been changed by that process?

    Fascinating stuff, Rob. :)
    Rob MacKillop likes this.
  10. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    I'm out of breath after a long hike. Will get to your reply later, Pete.
  11. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    I had to look up Henrietta Lacks - what an incredible story! Here's her wiki entry:

    They made no less than 20 tons of her cells. It beggars belief. She died, yet her cells live on - so, did she really die?

    All this from the contemplation of a lily. All things are connected. This whole area of life/not life, is fascinating. Now, how to imprint that through light falling onto a bunch of molecules in the shape of a lily?


    Back to Mappleforth for a minute. Both he and Dickinson (and many others) have used the lily as a metaphor to depict aspects of the human condition. Is it possible to depict the lily without any reference outside of its "self"? Does the very framing of an image automatically place it within an art context, with all the baggage that entails? What is the lily's experience, if it can experience at all?


    Far from all these questions and observations, the mechanical robot still turns to the sun...
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  12. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    Bad news - the roll of Velvia (through the C330s) has not arrived at its destination for developing and scanning. I sent it 1st Class last Wednesday, recorded, but the company says it hasn't arrived, and the post office doesn't know where it is either. It contains some shots of Cal, plus my trip to the botanic gardens, the HOT tropical glasshouse. Damn!
  13. Pete Askew

    Pete Askew Admin

    It's been stollen I'll bet. Someone wanted to get their hands on some original MacKillops!

    What dreadful news. I guess it might still show up though.
  14. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    I'm 5% hopeful. Some of the posties we've have round here beggar belief. That said, the latest one is a former guitar student of mine. He has a Masters Degree in Botanical Science, yet can't get a job. I'm not sure how hard he's trying, mind. He seems to enjoy walking too much.

    MacKillop originals are worth millions on the black market, right enough. But can I trust them to Group4? :eek:
  15. Pete Askew

    Pete Askew Admin

    Masters in Botanical Science. Works for Postoffice. Pictures of a Calla Lily. Prime suspect if you ask me! ;)
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  16. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    Yes! I'll rugby-tackle him tomorrow morning...
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  17. Pete Askew

    Pete Askew Admin

    You're too late I'm afraid. He'll be on a beach in the Bahamas by now!
  18. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

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  19. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

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  20. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    My images of Cal are beginning to be returned, sadly without my initial round of medium format images, now seemingly lost forever. Although of little interest, I expect, to the rest of the world, my journey with Cal has been full of philosophical and speculative interest to me. I've been thinking about the history of flower photography, and how our knowledge of that body of work influences how we approach creating our image. And also about how I all too readily endowed the flower with a name. I ended up observing myself as much as the flower.

    Is Cal any more dead here than when standing proud, following the sun?

    Cal 2sm.jpg
    [F4, Fujifilm Xtra 400, 28mm 2.8D, Nik Analogue Efex]

    I wanted to glimpse Cal through a multiplicity of different styles and techniques, using a combination of both analogue and digital rendering, neither of which is real, yet somehow presents facets of the flower which resonate with historical processes. Pseuds Corner or what? ;)

    Cal 1sm.jpg

    The poetry of dying resonates more than poetry of death itself. Dying takes time, while death, when it comes, is instant. Yet Cal seemed to be slowly ebbing away. At one point I said to Susan, "Look at the flower, its head is nodding" - and it was. I put it down to being caught in a draft...and then it fell. It was really hard not to feel we had just witnessed the final death throes.

    But we were projecting our human emotions onto something mechanical, which could not feel our pain. And that's what we do, we humans. We do it with mountains, stars, planets. We project ourselves out into the universe. It's one way of coping with the freakish reality of existence.

    Cal 4sq.jpg

    This is not a flower.
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