I worked with DITA EYEWEAR over several seasons to create editorial that explores engineering, nature and beauty in ways that tap into its seasonal inspirations and brand identity.
This included an essay exploring how Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific endeavours married strength and beauty through science, an interview with Ruby Barber of experimental Berlin-based florist Mary Lennox, and an interview with X-ray artist Hugh Turvey.
RUBY BARBER OF MARY LENNOX: BLOSSOMS IN BERLIN
From her Berlin atelier, florist Ruby Barber of avant-garde florist Mary Lennox is subverting traditional flower arranging into something beyond the realms of imagination. Bunches and bouquets might be replaced by a single statement stem, and centrepieces usurped by progressive structures made of hay, adorned with local produce.
The daughter of a gallerist and photographer was profoundly impacted by her creative parents’ occupations. “I was always surrounded by beautiful things and inspiring people from an early age. It definitely had a huge impact on how I see the world,” she says; and through her own career path, Barber has found herself reaching for beauty in non-traditional ways and gaining a cult following as @ruby_marylennox.
Barber’s work redefines what a floral arrangement can or should be, while still respecting the natural beauty of the flora’s forms. “I’m trying to showcase the natural product in its best light,” she says. “Generally, I hope to make something eye catching.” The end result can be beautiful, strange, or even ugly, stirring deep feelings in the viewer as they question their own gut reactions - a ploy that puts Barber’s work in the realm of art.
Barber’s work not only appeals based on these innate qualities of the materials she harnesses, but bends their traditional connotations as she subverts this meaning. Once she has shattered preconceived notions of what can and what cannot be considered beautiful, Barber opens up the viewer’s mind to see the merits of the often overlooked.
The project of Barber’s life work isn’t to subvert nature, but to dismantle our ingrained, traditionally held beliefs about it. Rather than grapple against its unyielding power, Nature inspired Barber’s to channel a creative force, as if like nature. “Obviously, nature is ultimate designer,” she admits. “The best compositions are often a reflection of how the flowers might be found in its natural environment. Even if I am creating something completely unnatural I’m always paying homage to nature itself.”
Text: Laura Havlin
Photography: Becca Crawford
HUGH TURVEY: X-RAY VISION
Hugh Turvey, has x-ray vision. The British artist, photographer and experimentalist, has worked in the medium of x-ray for so long that he says he now sees the world in x-ray – he even dreams in x-ray. “It’s my world,” he says.
It’s a superpower that enables the artist to compose an x-ray picture as a photographer would frame a shot. Having trained in photography, and cut his teeth when he was younger as an apprentice to British rock music photographer Gered Mankowitz, Turvey applies all his formal photographic knowledge to his x-ray works, anticipating with accuracy how the images will turn out. He knows what’s coming in the same way a photographer knows what’s coming when he sets up his lights in a particular way, or chooses a specific lens.
Turvey likens the reveal of making an x-ray image to the moments spent in a photographic darkroom: “You’ve taken images, and you don’t really know what they’re going to be like from a negative, (especially when they are 35mm), you don’t really get the impact of them until you’ve enlarged them onto a big piece of paper and then it’s revealed to you”.
In that moment, says Turvey, “you actually see the real image, because until that moment it was just something that you imagined; you pictured it, you composed it, you took a photograph, but until it’s physically there its fixed and you can see it, there’s a transient point where anything could happen.”
There’s a famous thought experiment by American philosopher Thomas Nagel that asked the question, “What is it like to be a bat?”. It asks the reader to imagine the subjective experiences of the world for a human and a bat, whose primary sensory experience is sonar. Both perceptual experiences, though feeding back the same source, are completely different. The world according to a bat is something only humans can attempt to imagine. Through his x-ray work Turvey is not necessarily revealing an unseen world, but offering a new way of seeing what has been before us all along.
This fascination began for Turvey while he was working as an assistant to Mankowitz. A small job for an unsigned band came in which required an image of a broken bone, so Turvey headed off to the Royal Free Hospital in London on a mission. At that time radiographers where shooting on film and would create multiple exposures to account for errors, which would then be put into a special bin so that their silver could be reclaimed. Turvey met the senior radiographer, who was head of imaging, who pointed to the bin and let him see if there was anything in there that suited his requirements.
“That was fabulous,” says Turvey, “because there were just the most amazing images and all I could see was just aesthetic - it was that love of that size and impact of film that completely won me over.” He went on to work on several experimental projects with the radiographer, including one that explored chicken’s eggs at various stages of gestation. “At that point I started exploring other options and accessing other machinery that could do this, and what industries there are that use radiation as a light source to inspect things. I began to the world around us in a completely different way. It is quite a revelatory moment.”
It amazed Turvey that radiographers, some of whom have worked in their field for decades, fail to see aesthetic value in their work, despite creating images as an occupation. For them, x-ray is just a work tool, but for Turvey the fields or art and science are completely intertwined. “Science bears birth to art so as science progresses, we move forward with our discoveries and our knowledge of the world around us,” he says this is what will drive new and different forms of art.
Turvey is excited about where these technological developments could lead, citing LIDAR technology, which can look at places like Egypt to discover previously unknown structures under the sand that could not have been seen before, as especially interesting. “As technology progresses, I will progress along with it and I will use different technologies,” says Turvey.
Infinite structures and patterns within nature fascinate Turvey the most, however. It’s here we find several powerful parallels between Turvey’s x-ray practice and the world of traditional photography. Nature photography has long-been tied with the development of the progression of the practice photography. Early cameras could only be used outside due to the amount of light required for exposure, resulting in a fashion for garden and nature photography in early adopters, for example. And the work of pioneering American landscape photographer Ansel Adams–who Turvey cites as one of his key inspirations–was crucial in the conservation movement in the States, bringing into sharp relief the awesomeness of America’s natural beauty and the need to preserve it.
Turvey too hopes that showing the “delicacy and fragility of nature” through his x-rays of flowers, for just one example, could play an important role in the compelling action in urgent climate crisis. He believes these images “could be a really powerful tool to motivate people to understand and consider their relationship with nature in the future and our position on our planet.” The photographer who sees the world in x-ray wants others to see what is so transparent to him.
Images: Hugh Turvey
Text: Laura Havlin