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Falling in Love

One spring I hiked up the Gilboa Mountains, carrying with me a small digital video camera that could take still photographs of a limited size, 720x576 pixels. This was my first digital camera. Among the few still photographs I took was of a photograph of a mutated Gilboa Iris. A butterfly had flapped its wings.

It was the first time I had ever photographed an iris, and it was this particular photograph of a naked, distorted individual flower, that took me to a journey I did not expect. When I looked at this pinkish small flower on my computer screen, I found myself troubled. The image was brutally intimate, and I felt both attraction and guilt as if I was invading another being’s privacy. I kept telling myself this was only a plant, yet it took me a few years to consolidate those feelings.

The next time I drove to the Gilboa mountains during the iris’ blooming season, I arrived with my next digital camera, a small semi-SLR Canon. This was to be a short visit and I took a few photographs of the last flowering Gilboa Iris for that spring in the Gilboa Iris Reservation. I was curious again about the flower’s hidden intimacy which was repeatedly exposed by the wind.

During the next couple of years, while completing my transition from analog to SLR digital photography, ideas about iris photography slowly evolved in my mind. I then made a decision to embark on an ambitious adventure: working on a photographic project that will include all eight species of iris flowers of Israel that belong to the Oncocyclus group. All eight irises are endemic and endangered. Given how my passion for iris photography evolved and crystallized in the first place, I knew this was not going to be a documentary photography project. This cannot be anything but an emotional expedition.

 Fire

My first visit on my mission, spring 2011, was to the Coastal Iris, the first to bloom and the closest to home. It was in a so called reservation, which in practice is no more than a tiny sandy hill in the center of what seems to be a lost case in a heated debate with real estate developers.

I was prepared to look for intimacy à la irises of Georgia O’Keeffe, but nothing prepared me for the fire I saw in the heart of the the first Coastal Iris I found.

What made this fire was sunlight which, at a certain angle at a certain time of the day, penetrate between the flower’s standards (upper petals) and hit the styles roof. Styles then glow from the inside.

 Beings in Nature

As I continued to photograph irises in their natural environments, I found myself shifting my attention from irises’ femininity and later their masculinity, to the uniqueness of individual flowers. Soon enough I found myself doing portrait photography of irises. Perhaps not during my first shooting assignment, but certainly during the second and through all the photography trips that followed. There are no two individual flowers alike, each having its own personality. They age and die differently. They look different in different lights, sunlight reflecting or penetrating and sometimes shining differently at different angles, the wind changes flowers’ appearance from one second to the next as it blows through their petals. Some show complete color transformation or distinct mutilation by mutations, and others show clear signs of struggle with the weather, insects, porcupines and Man.

Eye to Eye

I often found myself staying for up to three hours with a single individual flower, letting myself absorb its presence, the light, the sound and the air, looking for a better angle or a different light, or experimenting with the background or with a different shooting technique. Sometimes I was constrained by the wind, and at other times aided by it. I was intimately photographing portraits of iris flowers. At their home I saw them and they saw me Eye to Eye, Iris to Iris.

This post is based on my photo essay ‘Iris to Iris’ published in Israel Lens No. 11 (August 2015).

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