I’m working on a fun new collection of images using a totally different technique from my usual infrared. It is a series of close-up floral portraits created using ultraviolet light, or black light. The working title is Night Blooms, and you can view the collection here.
Many flowers fluoresce when exposed to UV light, glowing brightly and showing off a whole new set of colors. The results are always unpredictable, usually surprising and often delightful.
My inspiration for this series comes mainly from my eternal love for the beauty of flowers, and a long-neglected desire to do something creative in a floral theme. Not that I haven’t ever: Some lifetimes ago, I owned and worked a flower farm in the Napa Valley, growing a variety of blooms that I sold at farmers markets and arranged for winery events. Alas, the worst El Niño year in history nipped that endeavor in the bud, and I had to abandon the Rain Blossoms enterprise in only its second season.
In fact, that was my second floral ‘career’; I’d already worked for a year as a one-woman florist and nursery buyer in my teens. With high impulse and little oversight, I had the privilege of obtaining every type of flower available on the North Carolina wholesale market, and on someone else’s dime. Fond memories, indeed.
Even my past floral experience has not prepared me for the unpredictable colors and neon glow various blooms exhibit under ultraviolet light. It’s a running experiment, and I’m as surprised by the duds as I am by the pyrotechnics.
Using a macro lens allows me to get very close to the subject and expose some of the tiny plant structures we don’t ordinarily see. These bits are often strange and sometimes disconcerting; we recognize that the thing is alive but can’t quite name it. Snapdragon stigmata remind us of teeth, peony pods are probably tarantulas, milkweed fluff can only be an army of space aliens.
To me, these images are both very beautiful and slightly unsettling. The bursts of sparkling color floating on darkness remind me of my dreams, which are highly visual but sometimes elusive: The scene in the immediate frame is vivid and clear, but I can’t always grasp the background or larger story. I often wake up from a long, storied dream but can only recall with real clarity the final moment.
In turn, with the help of a dream journal, I've begun actively musing on recent dreams as I photograph flowers, letting my mind float a little off into the unconscious realm as I fill the viewfinder with an interesting detail or try various lighting schemes. Eventually an agreement happens between the scene in frame and the dreamy state of mind, and that’s the image made.
This isn’t too far off from my normal work standard. I do strive to let go of my conscious thoughts and work from intuition, though I haven’t tried a direct relationship to dreams before. None of my artistic inspirations are particularly intellectually deep or meant to impart a message. Art made from those deliberate origins is unsatisfying and feels dead before it’s even finished. Besides, I have a whole other cerebral hemisphere for that type of thinking, it gets plenty of exercise, and I appreciate it keeping its musings to itself where the making of pretty things is concerned. For this project, I’ll just keep myself lightly tethered.
I enjoy working with these striking, UV-incited fluorescent colors, and at a scale so different from my usual infrared landscape work. I anticipate the UV flowers becoming an ongoing addition to my full-spectrum photography portfolio.
All images are available as traditional fine art or modern acrylic prints.
I want to thank Craig Burrows for providing how-to information for this technique on his website. His widely-published UVIVF images are incredible and inspiring.