Curious Trends


Botanical curiosities - a photographic study

Photographer Brittain Bright is a Harvard graduate who studied at the Slade School of Art and is currently a post graduate photography student at Goldsmiths College, working on a thesis on detective novels.  As a member of The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Bright was inspired by the Spirit Garden of the Herbarium, where they preserve plants that can’t be pressed. She feels these have a curious three-dimensionality, like cacti fruit. The plant specimens also have great scientific value as well as a mysterious, ghostly quality. Her aim was to illustrate this cabinet of botanical curiosities through a collection of staged photographs of in the style of a grotesque laboratory.

Bright worked on six to ten photographs per day to create a series of still life images, using a large format camera, carefully setting up each picture to blend the visual lushness of the flora with an intense focus and minute level of inspection. These photos have not been re-touched, and efforts were made to find exactly the right contemplative process for each specimen. The photos have been developed in a dark room by Bright herself. All the weird reflections and spots on the glass jars, and specimen labels have been retained, reflecting the current trend for Victorian style curiosities.

Each jar is a curiosity in itself and almost every one has an intriguing label inside. The labels are handwritten, with some dating back to the 1880s. Their fascinating history is preserved in Kew Mix, along with the specimens. The botanical laboratory has its own solution for preserving plants – which was originally spirit – hence the name: The Spirit Collection. To this day, the jars sit in neat rows, frozen in time… Dead, yet never to decay.

Brittain Bright’s 'Spirit Collection' was recently shown at the Diemar/Noble Gallery in London.

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