Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Russell Scott’s Botanical Portraits Unearthed makes exhibition debut

The debut exhibition of artist-photographer Russell Scott’s series Botanical Portraits Unearthed takes place at CIRCA Gallery’s Darwin Room, opening 30 January 2014.

The series comprises 76 studio images of indigenous plants, photographed in ultra-detail between 2008 and 2013. Scott has selected nine pieces for his first display. Until now the Johannesburg photographer has been reticent to reveal these dramatically lit botanical works, despite the urging of many.

In his striking style each specimen is lit to dramatise its particular shape, colour, texture and translucency. He prefers to think of his evocative photographs as ‘…portraits of characters, as they are not always selected for being the finest specimens, but because they are variations of the type. It is necessary to isolate the plant from its environment to try and expose a unique personality’. Sometimes they remind him of plants that have been disrobed from their covers, as if nude portraits in a nocturnal setting.

Selecting plant material for photographic study is based on opportunities to spotlight plants that might otherwise be passed unnoticed, in ditches or building sites. ‘The glamour of exotic blooms is no more significant than roots, tubers and stems in suggesting the character of the subject’.

Scott is assisted by his artist wife, Philippa Hobbs, to identify, collect and nurture each plant back to health after acquisition. In the studio the plant is suspended or supported, or sometimes even hung upside down, with thread strategically holding parts of the plant in position. His sculptural sensibility is informed by the artworks he made as a young post-graduate from the Fine Art Department at Technikon Witwatersrand in the late 1980s, while his technical skill was developed over many years of working in the photographic and model-making industry. Despite Scott’s intensive, controlled shooting style, he allows minimal post-shoot intervention to an image, other than to enhance detail and to remove traces of the support rig.

Although the unusual specimens that capture Scott’s attention are from all over the country, most are gathered from the Highveld, some in downtown Johannesburg. At other times unidentifiable bulbs are discovered and planted speculatively and the surprise of the bloom is awaited.

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