I have always loved flowers. They lift my spirits and delight my soul. Everything about them appeals to me: their shapes, their colors, their texture, their scent, and how they feel beneath my fingers.
I am no gardener. In fact, I have what some might call a black thumb. I kill most houseplants within weeks. So I no longer try to grow them. Instead, I enjoy the occasional bouquet of bought or gathered flowers.
I not only display them prominently in my house, but I also usually spend time lovingly photographing them. I’m not even sure why I do this. Partly, I think, so that I can concentrate on one particular aspect at a time. At one time, I may focus on the entire bouquet. I notice the variety of blooms, their colors and how well they go together, their arrangement as viewed from different angles, the scent of the bouquet, and how it appears in various types of light.
Every year on my birthday, my brother sends me a wonderful bouquet. A friend of his is a floral designer, and he tells my local florists just what sort of bouquet to send me each year. The flowers are never the same. One year, I received an all-white bouquet; another year, I received only flowers with deep, saturated colors. This year, I received a pastel bouquet that reminds me of an English perennial garden.
As always, I have carried this bouquet all around the house, placing it in different locations and enjoying what strikes me in each place. In the living room, the morning sun streams through an east-facing window and strikes just a few of the tulips.
The man who delivered the flowers clearly enjoyed my pleasure on seeing the flowers. He pointed out some lovely pink flowers to me, saying happily, “These are Prince Edward Island tulips.” His joy in their heritage was contagious, and from that point on I noticed them every time I glanced at the bouquet.
For me, flowers are a definite food for the soul.
Is food for the body somehow different?
I have always loved food, perhaps even more than flowers. My whole family enjoyed food. In fact, on my grandmother’s deathbed, her last conversation with my father was to ensure that he knew all the ingredients to all the family recipes. (Sometimes my grandmother would withhold the identify of one ingredient so that no one else could make a dish exactly as she did.)
My mother’s family was Polish and Russian, and my father’s family was Spanish and Mongolian, so I had a pretty broad exposure to food as a kid. In addition, we owned a large farm, which produced all sorts of fresh produce. One of my happier memories as a child was sitting down to special summer meals, which consisted of one fresh crop of food: strawberries, for example, or corn. We would gorge ourselves on the fresh produce to celebrate its arrival.
However, as much as I love food, I didn’t really think about photographing it, except to document certain recipes. Occasionally, I might take a snapshot of something that I bought, but such pictures were usually spur of the moment activities that took place only because my camera was near where I unloaded the groceries.
Food somehow seemed limited to feeding the body but not the soul. Flowers have no purpose beyond the latter, so in my mind they became associated with beauty, whereas food was associated mainly with more earthly pleasures.
Then I broke my foot and had to lie around the house for a few weeks. Luckily, I have friends who gave me books, and two of those books just happened to be about food. Also, I had recently received a new cookbook that featured large and lovely photos of food.
As I sat in my armchair with my foot elevated, I read about food constantly. I was steeped in the subject, and I was reading the words of people who pointed out that wonderful food is spiritually satisfying as well as nourishing. They extolled not only the taste of the food, but its color, texture, scent, and arrangement. Their approach was much like my approach to flowers. Maybe the two shouldn’t be characterized so differently in my mind.
These writers’ attitudes began to permeate my consciousness. Now when I limped into the kitchen to make lunch, I began to notice how truly beautiful my tomatoes were. They were plump, they were gloriously red, and they glowed in the sunlight.
At first, I merely tried to capture their beauty. I set them up in a well-lit spot and took a few shots. My gosh, they were as beautiful as flowers, and just as much fun to photograph.
Then I decided to invest a little time and work on the presentation of the food. That should be easy, right? Just create a simple still life image. Some of my flickr contacts create wonderful still life images that thrill me almost, beyond words, but their best works are beautifully designed as well as photographed. The colors, shapes, and arrangement show a design sense far more sophisticated than mine.
I have had little luck with still life pictures. Occasionally, I’ll create a scene that contains food plus objects, but usually the results don’t thrill me. I’m not really good with three-dimensional design, I guess, or with the subtle interplays of color.
However, maybe I could just arrange the food to show off its natural beauty. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about props. Since I had a quantity of tomatoes, the easiest way to present them, I decided, was just to pile them up.
Sticking with a “less-is-more” philosophy, I picked out some glass bowls so I wouldn’t have to worry about what colors worked well with tomato red. And then I started shooting. I shot against white backgrounds. I shot against black. I shot tomatoes lined up on shallow dishes and piled in footed bowls and inside a glass tube.
The results have pleased me. These were not images of foodstuffs, exactly. These were images of colors and curves and highlights and shadows. These were images that made me smile. They were food for the soul.
Because they showed tomatoes instead of roses, were they any less soulful? I don’t think so. Furthermore, the images convinced me that the distinction I used to make about flowers and food was a silly one. An image of flowers is not inherently more satisfying to the soul than an image of food is. A food photo can satisfy the soul equally well.