Cultivating a Precise Moment
If you are waiting for me, don’t,
Most beautiful rose of all!
The earth is getting weary.
The heart wants shadow.
– Dulce María Loynaz
The roses are still growing, despite everything. We think that everything has changed. Suddenly we can’t hug each other and there is a dead whale in the river. But not everything has been altered.
Two summers ago, I walked through the Montreal Botanical Garden—well, at least a section of it. In retrospect, I wasn’t entirely present. I wasn’t looking around and thinking, “this is magnificent” or “look at that impossible shade of pink.” I sauntered through the garden with the inattentiveness of a man who assumed that a setting would always be available to him. Fortunately, I did so with a camera.
On that day, I could have wandered further, seen the medicinal plants, the First Nations Garden, the greenhouse. Instead, I stayed in one specific corner: the rose garden. All flower gardens have a type of eroticism—and the rose garden is perhaps the most erotic of all. Each bloom is an attempt to seduce and to subsequently reproduce. A garden is an orgy of fragrance and colour, everything heaving together: silky petals, wafting perfume, dewy buds. It would be clichéd euphemism if these descriptions were stolen and used to describe something else. But for roses, they are apt.
Why do we have such a collective affinity for roses? Lilacs are more pleasant smelling and marigolds are far more cheerful. Tulips don’t have thorns and sunflowers wave innocently for our attention. But roses—roses are entirely unconcerned with how you feel about them. They exist in their own category. They don’t question their own value. I suppose that’s why I love photographing them—for their symbolic significance.
No flower has such allegory. Fickle yet historic, soft yet spiked. “Get in line,” they say. Roses demand special treatment. To make it through the harsh winter, some are wrapped in foam blankets, so that the temperature beneath the covers never drops below -4°C. Imagine treating chrysanthemums that way.
It is commonly understood that the gift of red roses signifies romantic love. I’m fonder of less saccharine interpretations of what a rose can mean. The rose as symbol of thorny resistance. The rose as transformation. The rose as compassion. The rose as a farewell. The rose as death. Some say the symbolism of the rose is so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left. But it’s the symbolic versatility that has kept us planting—and photographing—roses.
The gardener has the distinct pleasure of witnessing a slow visual symphony, but it is the photographer who cultivates a precise moment. Photographing flowers is a type of harvesting. Each time I press the shutter, it’s an attempt to capture the essence of a flower. This never truly works, of course. All I’m left with is a high-resolution image that only points in the direction of what a blossom truly is. Still, when I look back on these photos, I am brought somewhere. To a place where flowers are blooming regardless of any type of upheaval outside the garden walls. To a place where the roses still grow.
Not everything has been altered.