Friday, February 8, 2008

Symbolism of Flowers

I have an undergraduate degree in art history. Since my studies, I have been fascinated with symbolism - the "hidden" meanings people attach to images and objects. As a student, I wrote a thesis about the images on gravestones, but these days I am more interested in the perhaps less morbid imagery of flowers. (Perhaps one can see a connection between the two... I went from images of death to ones that represent life and rebirth.)

In my fine art photographs, I focus on flowers in full bloom. I began taking floral photos after the birth of my daughter. I had struggled with infertility for a long time before she came along. After my greatest joy, it was easy to associate my beautiful flowers with the idea of a woman blossoming.

I now try to include flowers in all of my fine art images. I have photographed myself holding flowers and children dancing in flowers. I include flowers in still-lifes setups. Recently I began reading about the symbolism of particular species. I am fascinated with the idea of exploring how flowers can be used in portraiture in more unique ways.

During the Victorian era, the symbolism attached to flowers reached its pinnacle when people gave gifts of flowers to express sentiments they felt they could not utter. For example, forget-me-nots meant true love; Lobelia symbolized ill-will; Campanula represented thankfulness. (I'd like to meet any of the persons who sent or received Lobelia. What would your reaction be if you received a delivery of Lobelia from the florist?)

One of the oldest flower symbols and my personal favorite is the lotus, which in Buddhist tradition is representative of enlightenment. The lotus rises from the muck to reveal something beautiful. It symbolizes that even if we are stuck in a bad situation in our lives, we can overcome it. We can rise from the mess and make a new beginning for ourselves. I love that idea.

So when you say it with flowers this Valentine's day. Make sure you say the right thing! BTW, red roses do many true love, but perhaps you can be more creative this year and deliver forget-me-nots instead. I saw on a talk show the other day that most women do not like red to me... though I do prefer yellow roses myself. One of the Victorian meanings of yellow roses is infidelity, so maybe I had better not hope to get these!

See the Language of Flowers for more information.

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