Gallery Talk - Dale Grant
Tell us about yourself and how you became a photographer.
I was born in the Bahamas and have lived most of my life living and working in Paris, New York, Amsterdam and Berlin. After receiving my Masters Degree in International Relations from Boston University's overseas program in Paris, my initial plan was to attend law school. But this all came to a halt after I began assisting a friend who worked as a fashion photographer. I instantly fell in love with photography and from that moment on knew that I wanted to become a professional photographer. Having worked for many years as a commercial photographer for magazines and fashion houses, my focus is now on my fine art photography with flowers as my models of choice.
How has living in so many amazing places influenced your work?
My mother was a photographer and I remember watching her photograph customers who came to sit for portraits in her studio in Nassau. I can still remember sitting as a young child next to her in the dark room watching her develop and print film. The smell of the dark room chemicals still remind me of my first exposure to photography.
Paris is where it all began for me and the Parisian sense of style and fashion was what mostly influenced my photography. When I lived in New York, I began photographing flowers to distract me from the stress and hustle of the city. In Amsterdam, my work was heavily influenced by the floral arrangements of the old masters such as Rembrandt, as well as by all of the beautiful flowers available in that city.
Although most people appreciate flowers, the way you photograph them makes us see them in a different light. What motivates you to use flowers as a subject matter and does their short life span not make your work difficult?
The way I approach photographing flowers is similar to the way I make portraits. I observe and examine them from all angles. As I find beauty in all faces, no matter how unconventional this beauty might be, I'm inspired by the beauty and imperfections in flowers.
With my flowers images, I aim for the viewer to see all of the intricate and unique details in flowers that we usually don't see at first. Like holding up a magnifying glass would make you see them in a new way.
I photograph flowers in all stages of their short life, not only when they are at the peak of their beauty. Their short life span does not make it harder for me as this process of decay is was actually inspires me. As part of this process, I closely observe flowers in their vase for many weeks in order to capture a particular angle, the way they move towards the light, or how the petals wilt and loose their vibrant colors, and eventually fall.
Will flowers always be an endless source of inspiration or will there be a day where you may move on to another theme?
I get asked this question often. I photograph flowers because they speak to me on a deeper level and that is where my inspiration and love for photographing them comes from. I have the same connection with flowers as I have with photographing faces. I will always find a new way to capture them, even when my style may change and evolve over time, and don't believe I will ever tire of photographing flowers. I am equally passionate about photographing portraits and am presently working on a gender series of non-binary artists living in Berlin.
Your work not only focuses on flowers but is also well-known for its black and white portraiture and nude photography. What do these different subject matters have in common and what makes you decide to shoot an image in color or in black and white?
What all my images have in common, no matter the subject matter, is that I see and treat them all as portraits. My goal is to examine and expose the individual beauty in each of them. I photograph my human portrait work in black and white because for me color would distract from the unique features of the individual faces. I find that faces are more interesting in black and white because the textures of the skin, and what one might consider to be imperfections, are more highlighted and brought to the fore. Because of their vibrant colors I prefer photographing flowers in color but I can easily see myself one day experiment with photographing them in black and white. Although I photograph my nudes in color, I purposefully make the color more muted to reference nude paintings created in the late 17th and 18th century.
Can you share with us more about the process of how you set up a flower photoshoot? Do you have a particular idea in mind prior to a studio shoot or does a visit to the flower store become your main source of inspiration?
To prepare for a new shoot, I first visit my favorite florist. Because I shop there so often, he knows me well enough to sense what I'm looking for. I typically select around five flowers and only the ones that immediately speak to me in terms of color and shape, or how they are opening. Certain characteristics or imperfections may also appeal to me. After taking the flowers home, I'll put them in a vase and observe them throughout the day to see how they open and move toward the light. The majority of the flowers I buy will not be photographed as not all of them inspire me to that level. To me, traditional roses may perhaps be the most challenging flower to photograph because their conventional beauty lacks inspiration.
I do not have a preconceived notion of how to photograph a flower as it is the flower itself that guides me. As mentioned earlier, I carefully observe them over long periods of time and can spend hours photographing just one flower. At the end of a photo session, I'm almost always pleasantly surprised by the outcome as it's many times not as I expected. To me, being spontaneous and trusting my "muses" remains the best way to photograph.
I approach the post production process the same way as I would a photo shoot and do not work with predesigned filters. I let each individual flower guide me and, other than making the background a pure black, I only apply small tweaks to make the flowers look at their best.