Isabel Bannerman's Plants On Film
Drawing inspiration from artists including Imogen Cunningham, Karl Blossfeldt, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Mary Delaney, Isabel Bannerman creates striking portraits of plants on black backgrounds.
Read more about Isabel and Julian Bannerman's gardens in our article about their gardens.
Photography and plant life have a bit of common history simply because some of the camera’s earliest adopters had gardens of their own. The inventor of the modern photographic process, Henry Fox Talbot, was an English botanist whose first “photogenic drawings” in the 1830s included images of spindly wrack and other specimens from around his Wiltshire home, Lacock Abbey. (The estate figured in another photographic highlight when it stood in for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.)
[Read about the plants of Harry Potter.]
Above: Isabel Bannerman’s Brionia Triple pigment print on bonded aluminium.
As photography matured into an art form, it retained its fascination with plants. In the 1920s, Edward Weston’s encounter with the maguey cactus on a trip to Mexico led to his portraits of peppers, eggplants, and cabbage leaves draped like ball gowns, all on black backgrounds and as voluptuous as his famous nudes. Weston’s friend Imogen Cunningham shot blooms so closely they appear as alien life-forms. In Urformen der Kunst (archetypes of art), a book of plant photographs published in 1928, German sculptor Karl Blossfeldt put nature at the root of all aesthetics.
Isabel Bannerman acknowledges her debt to these trailblazers and to Robert Mapplethorpe, whose controversial work in the 1980s pushed the visual analogy between human and plant reproductive systems as far as it could go. But plants are Bannerman’s primary artistic medium, and her images document them in their own right. “I’ve become interested in their structural properties,” says Bannerman, not to mention their dynamics. “There are moments when they are changing rapidly—you can catch a fern when it is unfurling.” Characteristically, Bannerman also wrests inspiration from an England deep in photography’s prehistory. Mary Delaney, known as Mrs. Delaney, was an 18th-century English artist who pasted drawings of plants on black backgrounds to create mosaics of exquisite beauty that capture a pure love of flowers.
Above: Cruel Vine Smoking (Araujia sericifera).
Papaver Raspberry Queen
Bannerman’s portrait, Tree Peonie Seed Crown, evokes a crown with a cloak blowing in the wind and represents how Bannerman, in tune with many of her fellow plant photographers, uses black backgrounds and extreme close-ups to explore the alternative personalities of plants.
Isabel Bannerman’s pigment print on bonded aluminum, Peonie Pistil, exhibits the sense of humor that infects many of her plant photographs.