Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Photographer Paul Lange’s Big Blooms

Sometimes I really do get lucky. Last week I had the great fortune to bump into the photographer Paul Lange and his wife Jennifer in the cafeteria at the Chicago Botanic Garden. They were visiting from New York, having been invited by the The Botanic Garden to exhibit a series that Lange has been working on for the last few years entitled Big Blooms.  The Big Blooms series (on exhibit at the CBG through April) is as much a celebration of the miracle of flowers as fine art portraiture. Each flower is captured on a white background, as to illuminate the insane color palette of nature. I found the transparency of each subject’s petals to be mesmerizing. The scale of these pieces is dramatic. Each flower piece is enormous, as big as a tabletop, the bloom being centered on the piece like a face. Jennifer Lange explained to me that each flower is named after subjects (often models) that Paul, a longtime fashion photographer for Conde Nast, worked with. The Bette, for example is a straight-up Bette Midler. I mean dead- on, with such personality! The Paulina is very much evocative of Paulina Porizkova, the Czech model.

Carrie_Paul Lange


Paulina_Paul Lange


Keira_Paul Lange


Chloe_Paul Lange


Fabienne_Paul Lange




Camille_Paul Lange


Elsa_Paul Lange


It’s a Vigilante-esque story, Paul’s transition from fashion photography at the highest levels in the field (on contract with Vogue, etc.) to a more personally-directed fine art career based on his passions. He now does what he loves. I asked Paul about it, and we joked that it was nice to have the freedom to work with people you like. One of their early collectors has been Aerin Lauder of the Estee Lauder makeup empire, whom they have enjoyed working with. I will have to post separately about his Fowl Portraits series, which, like Big Blooms, captures the personalities of chickens and roosters, illuminating their majestic colors and plumes but against a black background that given them a certain gravitas.

On a sidenote, why is it that brilliance often occurs when an expert in his/her field attempts something slightly off-topic? Like the seasoned fashion photographer turning to nature as his subject (Paul Lange) or the experienced New Yorker cartoonist turning to illustrating children’s books (Ian Falconer), etc. There is a nugget in there. Like, own your field but then shift just slightly off center to find your sweet spot. I just have not sorted out just what this formula is. But in the meantime, soak in some beauty on Paul Lange’s site and get yourself primed for the budding of spring.

  1. Dana Sherwood says:

    Thanks for this reminder, Olivia. It’s very important to do things we love, and with people we like and love.

    I was reminded of this topic, when I watched the Bill Cunningham’s documentary last night on Netflix. Early in his career he was burned by a wealthy patron and decided he would never be “owned” by anyone else, etc. I had the great fortune of meeting him in 2003 and was delighted to have my photo appear in NYT’s Style Section. What a treat!!

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