SELECTED IMAGES FROM THE NASHER MUSEUM COLLECTION
THE NIGHT BLOOMING CEREUS AND POMEGRANATE
This flower blooms at night, hence the name Night Blooming Cereus, which comes from the cactus family.
I Photographed This on the Night I Met My Wife
I met a new friend at a photographic exhibition held in a private home. I learned that she had been a commercial photographer in New York as well as a celebrated musician who played a three hour solo on her clarinet at Carnegie Hall at twenty four and after winning an international contest. She was a founding member of the Orpheus Chamber Music Orchestra.
We decided to meet on a Friday for dinner at her house. She phoned to say that she had three blooms on her Cereus and by Friday she would have none. On twenty minutes warning I threw a dark background blanket, my camera and tripod into the car and drove to her house, asking to see the flower. The flower had tight buds like the one in the upper left corner. I was such an idiot, never thinking that a night blooming flower would not be in full bloom at six pm. We ordered pizza and waited while I checked on the flower every thirty minutes. She said as a commercial photographer in New York. she set the lighting and made the exposure rather quickly. She said she did not have my patience. I asked her to find any flashlights or lanterns that she had and three NY phone books. She returned with a pile of books and a dying lantern glowing tungsten orange.
I placed the lantern on top of the books under the lowest flower, set up my digital Nikon and lowered the tripod to be level with the flowers. I had draped the background, a red and white patterned couch, with my brown blanket. We started making practice timed exposures of 2 seconds, during which I used the two flashlights I brought to paint with light the darker areas of the image. Every thirty minutes I went in to see how the blooms were opening. Around nine the flowers started to open. I photographed every stage until eleven thirty when the blooms were open and the last bud was still tight. I liked the idea of showing how it hid the furl inside. After making the practice exposures, I photographed for about five minutes over the course of two and one half hours. I made two other images and later wrote a poem about the Cereus. Jane was my assistant, often waving the flashlights to write with light the places that needed extra light whether one the edges of the white petals or in the darkest leaves. The date was 9/11/2013.
The pomegranate was made as a contact print on a Kodak chloride paper, no longer available, called AZO, know for its incredible long tonal range, slow emulsion and could only be contact printed. This 4x5 negative (notice notch at top left) was Versapan, what we used at M.I.T
I never learned to cook but loved to go to the grocery store, buy interesting looking vegetables and whack them in half to see what they looked like in the interior. For a long time I called this Half of What Lies Inside, but later changed the name to Pomegranate, as it symbolized fertility, beauty and eternal life, in Greek and Persian mythology. I did not know that my friend, Jerry Vaughan, was undergoing thyroid surgery when I made this negative. The thyroid looks similar to a butterfly with two halves and is located near a man's Adam's Apple. On Halloween, October 31, 1974, I photographed the pomegranate. Later I saw the image as a vision of Jerry's surgery, an x-ray of air lungs with dark blemishes solid blood leaking in drops through space, split open and losing the center seed. By the time I was forty, my thyroid had enlarged three times normal size, I had a goiter on my neck and was persuaded to see the best endocrinologist at Duke who diagnosed me with Graves Disease. I was treated with nuclear medicine which did not work the first time but did the second. For the first time in my life I had a normal thyroid and did not hear my blood gushing in my ears when facing a crowd or arriving late at a meeting.
This is a split/toned print, a rare discovery for me. I only tried this on two negatives several times and only succeeded with this image and one other. The curator at the Nasher was interested in the still life category, the fewest examples of my work. I had just finished the Cereus series and had them printed, in a box, but not in view as she looked through my work laid out on table. After she had made her selection, I mentioned that I had just finished three imagess of flowers and would she like to see them. I opened the box of the largest prints offered and she wanted all three of the Cereus.