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Sexy wildflower photos remind us to take in life's details

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Ray Ring | Aug 20, 2013 05:00 AM

Tim Crawford – an all-around maverick and High Country News subscriber in Bozeman, Mont. – has been doing photography for conservation groups, magazines, books and other purposes for more than 50 years. Now he's debuting a series of close-ups of "Wild & Feral Flowers," including this Mexican hat (also called the prairie coneflower) and musk thistle below.

crawford Mexican hat
Mexican hat flower

crawford musk thistle
Musk thistle flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'm struck by Crawford's creative vision in these Western flower photos, and think they convey a worthwhile message. "I've taken pictures of flowers for decades, but I was never satisfied with the results," he says. "I'd be walking along taking photos of the flowers in situ, in nature, but there were always distractions," because the flowers grew amid "the busy green" – the clutter of many plants crowded closely together. And viewed real-life size, the flowers were often so small, it was difficult to appreciate their details. So finally, Crawford decided to "abstract them."

He took individual flowers into his studios, on his two Montana ranches, and posed each one against a black velvet background. He shot with portrait lighting and a Nikon D300 digital camera that, in the right hands, can deliver a high-quality image reminiscent of what his old large-format 4x5 film camera could achieve. (He's switched to digital, like most shooters these days, because it's more convenient.) Another sample, Crawford's vision of the prickly pear:

crawford prickly pear
Prickly pear cactus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These photos emphasize how the flowers are essentially sexual, by focusing on the stamens (male reproductive organs) and pistils (female reproductive organs), which attempt to attract pollinators that connect the organs to eventually form seeds. So the photos are a kind of plant eroticism combined with homage to the beauty and complexity of nature. They also remind me of the famous series by Richard Avedon, who isolated and photographed Western people against a white background.

But a standard computer screen, or even a magazine page, can't display the richness of detail Crawford has captured, because the wildflower photos are meant to be displayed LARGE. For a show in Bozeman's Ecce Fine Art Gallery, which runs through the end of September, for instance, he's mounted some on canvases that are 2 feet wide, or 2 feet tall. The original images measure as large as 7 feet by 5 feet.

So, with Crawford's permission, let's zoom-in on portions of his photos, so you can appreciate the degree of detail:

crawford prickly pear zoom
Prickly pear cactus zoom-in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

crawford musk thistle zoom
Musk thistle zoom-in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The message, in Crawford's view and mine: Let's all take a closer look at our surroundings and everything and everyone we take for granted, to understand how the ordinary is really wonderful. Or maybe to understand that we actually live on the planet Venus.

Another sample, the scarlet gaura flower, which typically opens for less than a day, surely from the Venus wilderness:

crawford scarlet gaura
Scarlet gaura flower

 

crawford scarlet gaura zoom
Scarlet gaura zoom-in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the ordinary, wonderful purple prairie clover:

crawford purple prairie clover
Purple prairie clover flower

 

crawford purple prairie clover zoom
Purple prairie clover zoom-in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let's close with a final zoom-in on the Mexican hat flower that opened this blog post, because these things are more powerful than words.

crawford Mexican hat zoom
Mexican hat flower zoom-in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ray Ring is a High Country News senior editor.

Ann Meisel
Ann Meisel Subscriber
Dec 03, 2013 02:20 PM
Wonderful pictures, thank you. Imprecise word choice. "Erotic" photos often contain sexual parts. Clearly the writer misunderstands the word "pornography." "Plant eroticism" would more accurately depict these photos.
Ray Ring
Ray Ring Subscriber
Dec 03, 2013 03:19 PM
Good point, I'll tune the wording, thanks for your help. -- Ray Ring, HCN senior editor

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