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Know the West

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


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.

Mexican hat flower

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:

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:

Prickly pear cactus zoom-in








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:

Scarlet gaura flower


Scarlet gaura zoom-in


















And the ordinary, wonderful purple prairie clover:

Purple prairie clover flower


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.

Mexican hat flower zoom-in














Ray Ring is a High Country News senior editor.