Friday, 13 August 2010

The future is Bright, the future is Brittain Bright!

Brittain Bright's (pictured here on Polaroid's taken with my beloved SX70) series Spirit Collection reveals a dual relationship with botany that capture my own personal feelings towards flora & fauna, both good & bad.

How can one have a bad relationship with flowers, I hear you say? Well, as we all know memories are often triggered by sights, sounds & especially smells. I have very strong feelings about roses. Red roses to be precise. I love the smell of roses, the look of them, with their fascinating complexity & even the way the petals feel to the touch. However, a single red rose reminds me of death. I have had 2 instances in my life when someone close to me died. On both occasions these moments were marked by the coincidence of the gift of a red rose. When other people get them doesn't bother me, it's romantic. But woe betide anyone who buys a single red rose to me as a gift. Yes one of my weird quirks, but there you go!

Brittain Bright's series brought my foible to mind as it's light & dark imagery filled me with strange wonderment & awe. These plants stored in jars in the huge herbarium at Kew (originally they used white spirit, hence the name of the collection) since 1930 have outlived some of the people who put them there. A strange thought...

With complete access to the specimen's Brittain spent nearly 2 years taking out jars and photographing them with a large format camera on the small desk space she was given to work in. Technically, these photographs are extraordinary as the imperfections of the glass, coupled with the combination of natural & fluorescent light gave her many challenges to overcome each time. Using either a dark or light backdrop to avoid the distraction of the room beyond, we are given a close view of the delights contained within. Each titled by the Latin name of the specimen (a language many of us no longer speak) the mystery of what is encased becomes all the more enticing. Ironically, as most of us do not know the latin our imaginations are left to run riot as to the original appearance of the plant. As with all things in jars their appearance changes with time. Petals become transparent, cacti spikes go from cream to dark brown, whilst the flesh goes an anemic cream colour, the green simply fades away...

The details of the contents are written by hand or typed (depending on when it was housed) on strips of paper inside the jar, so as not to obscure the view of the specimen. As a result the words are sometimes visible in the photograph. We are presented with a puzzle to solve - like evidence at a crime scene - to piece together or attach new meaning to as we see fit.

Visitor's to the current exhibition have all seen the most remarkable things within her photographs. Although I know this work very well, there is nothing better than seeing it on the wall, to get to know it all over again & find new depths inside the clear liquid. This is often aided by others comments. As a gallerist, it is wonderful to hear the remarks her photographs provoke & the conversations that follow. Brittain herself pointed out a similar experience a collector gave for choosing the print pictured here. They said that the bubbles in the test tube had miniature seascapes within them! They were right! Since then, whenever I look at this print that is what I see too.

Imagination is such a glorious thing. I once had a pair of ugly curtains in my bedroom. They had huge vertical columns of burgundy flowers (30cm wide, huge flowers) edged in dark brown lines, with a background of horizontal oatmeal textured fine lines, yurgh! However, I grew to love these curtains when I couldn't sleep. I would look at the negative spaces between the flowers & find things within them. As I recall there was a goat, a shape like the UK & a leotard amongst other things. Staring at these curtains I must have passed countless hours in the insomnia-addled evenings of my teenage years. When we moved house I said goodbye & good riddance to the nylon/cotton mix eyesores. However, years later in a charity shop in Grenwich I came across them again! (Well probably not the same ones, but the same fabric.) I was filled with elation & even considered buying them! A pair of curtains revealed what a sentimental fool I am, but also reminded me of the importance of an active imagination.

I urge you to take a long hard look at Brittain Bright's photographs ( there are a few images on her website too) & see the countless possibilities that the jars reveal to you. Enjoy the wonders her images unearth & post it on Twitter, shout about them on Facebook& best of all see them for yourself in the gallery. Amaze me, you know you want to!

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