Image — Final Major Project

Project brief: ‘Wish You Were Here’: produce a tableau vivant-style image with the words ‘Wish You Were Here’ as a starting point.

It took some time to think of a subject to photograph for my final major project. After a visit to Photo London at Somerset House, I came across a photograph of a constructed flower taken by Jennifer Latour. I have always been fascinated about flowers, they’re symbolism and lifecycle.

Flower symbolism

Flower Meanings by Colour

Flowers provided an incredibly nuanced form of communication. Some plants, including roses, poppies, and lilies, could express a wide range of emotions based on their color alone.

Take, for instance, all of the different meanings attributed to variously colored carnations: Pink meant “I’ll never forget you”; red said “my heart aches for you”; purple conveyed capriciousness; white was for the “the sweet and lovely”; and yellow expressed romantic rejection.

The colour of the rose plays a huge role. Red roses symbolise love and desire, but roses come in a variety of colours and each has their own meaning.

White rose: purity, innocence, reverence, a new beginning, a fresh start.
Red rose: love, I love you
Deep, dark crimson rose: mourning
Pink rose: grace, happiness, gentleness
Yellow rose: jealousy, infidelity
Orange rose: desire and enthusiasm
Lavender rose: love at first sight

Dutch Masters

Vanitas became a popular genre of Dutch master paintings in the seventeenth century. It utilised the still-life form to evoke the fleeting quality of life and the vanity of living.

Primarily known as a popular Dutch art genre of the Baroque period (c.1585-1730), Vanitas is closely associated with a cultural phenomenon present in Early Modern Europe known as Memento Mori (Latin for ‘remember you must die’). 

Vanitas paintings are delicate and soaked in detail.  They are populated by symbolic imagery which forces the viewer to study the image.

Vanitas became a popular genre of Dutch master paintings in the seventeenth century. It utilized the still-life form to evoke the fleeting quality of life and the vanity of living.

Jan Davidsz de Heem
Vase of Flowers, c. 1660

The Delft painter Jacob Vosmaer was an early if not pioneering specialist in the painting of flower pictures, which often depict rare specimens known to the artists solely from illustrated books. At some time before 1870 this panel was trimmed on the sides and cut down (about nine inches) at the top, cropping the crown imperial.

The flower paintings of Jan Davidsz de Heem celebrate the beauty of flora while at the same time exemplifying the concept of Ars longa, vita brevis (art is long, life is short) embodied in the Dutch still-life paintings of the seventeenth century. De Heem’s paintings also reflected the great interest in botany at that time, and this work includes exotic flowers and plants brought back from faraway places, such as the tulip, originally imported into Europe from Turkey in the 1550s.

De Heem was one of the most gifted, versatile, and influential still-life artists of his age. His refined technique allowed him to portray a great variety of textures that captured the very essence of the objects, including the petals of exotic flowers; long bent reeds of wheat; minute creatures such as butterflies, ants, snails, and caterpillars; and finally, the reflective surfaces of glass. In this work, De Heem creates a harmonious arrangement by balancing the colours and shapes of thirty-one types of flowers, vegetables, and grains. Despite the illusion of reality, this bouquet could have never actually existed, as the various flowers would have bloomed in different seasons. De Heem often included specific animals and flowers in his work for their symbolic meanings. Representing darkness and decay, a salamander stares hungrily at a spider, while a snail, a moth, and some ants crawl on the marble shelf. The memento mori (remember that you will die) images are counterbalanced by the wheat stalks symbolising the Eucharist, and by the caterpillar and butterfly on the white poppy, which evoke redemption and resurrection.

Flowers – Summer Daze 

The alstroemeria flower has an array of meanings depending on the colour. But the beautiful blooms always connect to a similar meaning of friendship, love, strength and devotion.

They’re often thought to represent mutual support. And the ability to help each other through the trials and tribulations of life. 

The meaning behind alstroemeria derived from the six beautiful petals of the flower. Each petal represents a different characteristic: understanding, humour, patience, empathy, commitment and respect. Their twisted leaves are also a symbol of bonding, stability and overcoming difficulties together.

I took a series of images over the period of seven days. The following images are iterations of layering the different images in Photoshop. I experimented with the different blend effects whilst layering the images. I emphasised the blacks and colours, to replicate a Vanitas painting as seen above.

I used the top floor attic space at The Margate School to set up my vivant style image. The space was a perfect setting for the photoshoot due to no day light and being very warm. This meant (sadly) the flowers died quicker.

These were the four final raw images — capturing the flowers’ lifecycle.

The photoshoot set-up was simple, using one single light source pointing up which bounced light back toward the flowers, mimicking a natural light source such a a window. I used a black backdrop to draw attention to, and saturate the frame with the bright coloured petals.

Final print titled “Summer Daze”
1 m x 1 m

The tight crop adds further mystery to the dreamlike image. Inspired by many record sleeve designer, the square format to pay homage to record sleeve designs. The colours and tones has a similarity to the work of Hipgnosis.


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