To See a World in a Grain of Sand, and Heaven in a Wildflower
By Tom Harvey
18 Jun 2012
'If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole world would change' – the Buddha
The Buddha once presented a teaching to over a thousand of his followers on a mountainside, where people would have come from miles around to hear him speak about the nature of life, death, and truth. Already renowned as a great spiritual teacher he would have attracted quite a crowd. His audience was made up of monks, nuns, laypeople, and I would imagine, a good number of people who probably wondered what this massive gathering was that was taking place and who had heard about the wisdom of this man who said he was 'awake'. The Buddha plucked a flower and sat upon his dais twirling it between his fingers. The audience waited. Silently, the Buddha held the flower up and showed the crowd, without uttering a word. The crowd sat, bewildered and confused, scratching their heads trying to work out what the Buddha was trying to transmit with this simple gesture. They thought long and hard about to try to unravel the hidden meaning of the cryptic gesture. Of all those gathered, only Kashyapa smiled. Kashyapa saw. The Buddha smiled.
Floral photography has been a subject that I have a love and hate relationship with. The truth is, for a long time I kind of held firmly to the common notion that as a subject for photography, flowers are kind of a dud, since they are beautiful it is easy to take beautiful photographs of them. Of all the images online, I would hazard a bet on the fact that there are more pictures of flowers than anything else, and if somebody set out to print them all there would not be enough paper, photographic or otherwise, on Earth to print them all. The fact that the vast majority of them are doubtless mediocre at best discredits the notion that merely being a beautiful subject will make a beautiful photograph.
That said, floral photography is more to me than the creation of a beautiful image. Photography, for me, is an invitation to step beyond the overwhelming state of busyness that characterises the modern world, and to live more deeply in a state of awareness of what is – to experience and appreciate the beauty of a single moment. In my mind there is a subtle switch between 'everyday' and 'photographer' modes, which takes me from a place of stress and hurry, into a stillness in which I am touched by the play of light and shadow, texture, tone, form, line, and so on. Further to this, flowers serve as a metaphor for life and being – from the buds of birth, through to life in full bloom, to death and decay, and back to rebirth.
I encourage all photographers – amateur, professional, or anywhere in between – to take a look, a real look, at flowers. Experiment. Look closely. Experience. Stop and smell the roses.