A few weeks ago, a very, very bad thunderstorm hit Orlando. This is not at all surprising, as the roughly-2-pm storm is just about the only thing predictable about this place. The storm rocked the old windows in my apartment, shook the trees of their superfluous branches and swept the brick roads with fleeting rivers.
The storms, I feel, have been getting worse than when I was a kid growing up here. Then, there was almost always a storm in the afternoon, and even if it was strong, it was short. Or at least not as everlasting and persistent as the storms of today are. The storms now are longer and lash harder. I feel it, and I worry.
The next day, walking back from the store, I came across a delicate bunch of Spanish moss hanging from a tree by some invisible natural thread. The moss hung midair, twisting ever slightly with the wafts of wind tailing the storm.
I stopped in front of the moss, captivated. It didn't make sense – I couldn't see whatever it was that the moss was dangling from; it was that faint. I held the moss delicately and immediately let it go, afraid that my animal hands would release it from its exalted position.
It might sound crazy, but I felt a sort of kinship with that piece of moss. Dangling by some invisible thread – and yet still there. Still hanging on. Still twisting.
I recently submitted a version of my long-term project, the Land of Flowers, for a PhMuseum grant, formalizing for the first time a previously personal pursuit of visual understanding. This project, a visual exploration of the peculiar paradise in which I live, is quite special to me, as it is as much a reflection of myself as it is of Florida.
It is also one that is hard to articulate. My inability to fully explain its purpose, its overarching meaning, has fed my ever-present insecurity. Yet as the project and I grow, I am coming to terms with the idea that this project by nature has, and probably always will, evade explanation.
That being said, the experience of encapsulating what I'm doing, at least at this moment, with the project was relieving and reassuring. Explaining the project for PhMuseum was the clearest articulation of the project in its current form, something that aids my practice and also, hopefully, informs how others see it.
With that, I introduce the 9th Anatomy of a photograph, which instead focuses on a photo narrative instead of just one image through the lens (no pun intended) of the Land of Flowers. Here are three photos from the broader project that most clearly demonstrate its intent and some I'm happiest with.
The first in this mini-series is a photo I made recently and unexpectedly. I went to one of my favorite hidden spots in the area for a drink, and noticed this mirror as I walked in. I've seen the mirror before – it's hard to miss – but never realized how it illustrated an aspect of my project I've yet to visualize, the idea of the chaos of paradise being a reflection of the chaos within us. An image of a mirror is perhaps literal, even too on-the-nose for some, but I thought the odd placement was neat. To create a bit of distance from the literal nature of a mirror in a chaotic and clearly developed natural landscape, I added actual distance in the image. I thought it made it more contemplative, but if I'm being honest, I'm just spitballing at this point. Really, it just felt like the right photo to make. Overall, I believe this image encapsulates the odd juxtaposition of people in paradise, the charade of vanity in a conspicuous place like Florida, and the idea of self-reflection in a place meant for escape.
The second image is another I took fairly recently at a casual shoot at Ponce Inlet with a friend. The sun was setting, the light fading. We were standing in the water. At one point I turned around and noticed the ripples in the long waves – it must have been high tide. It was subtle, and calm, another element I've wanted to bring into the project. For as chaotic and uncontrollable as this place is, it also offers an intoxicating calm in tiny moments like this. I've seen similar photos of ripples in the ocean or other bodies of water that, at first glance, look pretty straightforward. It's the simplicity, actually, that I wanted to capture. To keep some visual activity, I kept the ripples in the waves at an angle and made the photo at a bit of a distance. But other than that, I just wanted to make a simple photo. I don't do that much, so it was a nice experience, and also reassuring that I liked it enough to include it.
The third image is the most complex of the three, and one of several in the broader project that seeks to send a bit more of a critical message. The unnecessary confinement of this bougainvillea (at least I think it's bougainvillea) struck me – such a beautiful natural being, twisted thoughtlessly around a telephone pole. Why? I don't understand. the Land of Flowers currently has a tendency to lean into the more comfortable, aesthetic idea of paradise. A longer trajectory I have for the project, as seen in this image, is to criticize the human chokehold on such a delicate place.
You can see more photos from the Land of Flowers above. I also recommend looking at this newsletter on the website, where the photo layout is bigger than in an email. And while my own intent, perspective and experience influences my work, I would love to learn how others reflect on the work and what comes from that experience. If you're comfortable with it, please share with me your thoughts.
If you're interested, you can also see and read the full submission of the Land of Flowers to PhMuseum here.
I've found that finding a visual voice and sharing it can be both eviscerating and enlightening. I've also learned that by sharing my work, I am getting better at articulating what I'm doing, which is helpful not only for others but for myself. For me, explanation is not the end, but rather the means. What I'm really aiming for is some sort of understanding, that of myself and of something bigger than me. It will be a long road, and every day, I feel myself getting closer.
With love and light,
P.S. If you'd like to support my work, please consider the paid option for this newsletter.