For her new exhibition at the Garden Museum this summer (Kate Friend: Botanical Portraits, as chosen by…) photographer Kate Friend approached notable creatives and public figures: people whose work she respected and people she wanted to meet. Kate asked them to pick a single flower or plant for her to photograph. She chose the people, they chose the flowers. We asked Kate a few questions to find out more:
Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind this series, and how it’s different from your previous work?
In my Botanical work I am looking for a story: a way to look deeper at the plant and think about how it came to be here at this time, in the space and hands of the person growing or cutting it. I also look for way to make a body of work: a concept to tie images and plants together. One of my favourite parts of working in photography is the way it takes me places and introduces me to people. I like to learn from and be inspired by meetings and experiences. Looking to satisfy all this in my first flower series, I asked gardeners at some of England’s greatest gardens to choose flowers for me to shoot. I liked relinquishing control and seeing what they put in front of me, shooting on location at each garden. And now, with this newest series, I wanted to work with people who had a relationship with flowers but weren’t necessarily gardeners – they are people from all sorts of backgrounds and talents for whom flowers hold a significance.
How did you choose who to reach out to?
It was an intuitive process.. sometimes led by instinct, sometimes I would be tipped off about the next subject by the one I was currently working with. I was drawn to disruptive figures: those with a vanguard approach to their industry or a unique life philosophy that I wanted to learn from.
What was the process from there, did you know in advance of visiting people what their chosen plant would be? And how did you set up the temporary ‘studios’ on location?
Sometimes people were very specific about which flower they wanted, and we would wait until it was in season. Others couldn’t possibly name a favourite, and we shot what was in season in their garden at the time. This would lead to shooting many flowers over the course of the day. I travel with all the equipment needed to create a small setup anywhere. Usually a shed, greenhouse or corner of someone’s home or studio by a window. I use film and only need daylight so there’s no need for lights, but it can mean I’m working against the weather sometimes, particularly as I shoot right through the year in any conditions. I don’t mind to improvise with what’s available and can put up with wind, rain etc. It’s always worth the effort because the flowers then don’t have to travel, and speak more of the person that chose them if they’re shot in that person’s own space.
It must have been fascinating to visit the homes and studios of so many brilliant creatives, what was that like? Any particularly memorable moments?
It was fascinating, I am so grateful to everyone that said yes and opened their homes and stories to this idea. Each visit is burned into my memory. Margaret Howell was one of the first subjects I shot, and her home was so calm and beautiful, and Margaret was so trusting.. I felt very humbled by my visit. Maggi Hambling threw down the challenge of shooting her 20 foot high cactus, Esmeralda, which wouldn’t even fit in my frame, but I wasn’t about to say no, and in the end shooting with Maggi was a riot. Shooting Himalayan blue poppies for Olivia Harrison at Friar Park was magical, a great privilege, likewise snowdrops for Penny Rimbaud in his self-sustaining anarchist/pacifist open home, Dial House. Dan Pearson and Huw Morgan were the first to welcome me after the spring 2020 lockdown lifted, and the weather was glorious, and being there for the day felt like such a release.
Do you have a favourite photo from the show?
A lot of people have asked this. I haven’t thought about it like that as each photograph represents a sitting, a time, a place and a person, so there’s so much behind each image. Aesthetically I love Juergen Teller’s strawberry and Dan Pearson’s Dierama pulcherrimum. I love Cosey Fanni Tutti’s Euphorbia, Penny Rimbaud’s snowdrop and Margaret Howell’s Hydrangea as their visits felt particularly poignant.