Image copyright Lisa Creagh.
In 1952, Henri Cartier-Bresson coined the term “decisive moment”, defining an approach that still holds sway. But Lisa Creagh thinks we’re entering a new phase. “Digital technology is changing photography,” she says. “There’s a very modernist aesthetic of the instant moment, and that’s defined photography for the last 60 years. But I think pattern is very relevant in digital photography. It’s more about repetition and a series of endless cycles, something being the same but repeated over and over. A new language is evolving and that’s what I want to explore.”
And that’s exactly what she’s done with The Instant Garden, a huge, heavily manipulated image modelled
on an ancient Persian carpet. She’s taken tiny sections of still life flower shots and moulded them into an intricate, highly decorative pattern – laughing that in doing so she’s combined three deeply unfashionable things; flower photography, heavy Photoshop and the decorative. It hasn’t done her any harm. Creagh created her image during her photography MA at the University of Brighton but it’s being exhibited in London’s Diemar/Noble gallery this summer alongside shots by Robert Mapplethorpe, Eikoh Hosoe and Neeta Madahar. The project started out as an experiment in still life flower imaging inspired by 17th century Dutch paintings. Creagh was recreating the lighting and inky black backgrounds of these paintings, when the sudden death of a friend in Amsterdam got her thinking about intensive farming.
“I had a vase of flowers at home and when I got to his house I found the exact same blooms,” she says. “It really struck me how universal these flowers are, they’re cultivated all over Europe. Flowers and maths or science are traditionally meant to be opposites, but the industrial process of growing ties these things together. You go into these very large, very manmade greenhouses and there are bees flying around.”
Creating abstract patterns with beautifully lit still life elements were a way to express this synthesis, but although Creagh’s image is underpinned by algebra, it was painstakingly handmade rather than mass-produced – Creagh crafted each section of the 10-foot final print, rather than simply making a quarter and mirroring it. “If you create something very symmetrical, the eye tends to see it and dismiss it,” she says. “You need lots of imperfection and asymmetry to create an organic feel. I wanted to use that language of traditional decorative arts, creating something that’s designed to be looked at for a long time. Beauty and the decorative have been excluded from art for 30 years or more because there’s been a predominance of the conceptual over the visual. I hope to restore that tradition to some degree and reclaim it. I think it’s coming back in with digital photography.”
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