Christopher Royal Studio
Summer Photo Project

One of my greatest pleasures throughout the spring and summer is watching the plants on my deck grow and flourish. As the season progresses my plants surround me and create a sort of cocoon of privacy and solace. I call it my garden in the sky.

This season my garden approached jungle status with the morning glory vines running riot and doing their twisting, curling best to take over the deck entirely. Morning glories have an aggressive quality that is wildly impressive and also a bit annoying – one must constantly unwind and detach them from the other plants, as they will choke anything in their path. The payoff though can be quite spectacular. Some days there are literally hundreds of blooms greeting me and my morning coffee.

Often I will sit for long periods of time just gazing at the plants and actually watching them grow. It is one of the most calming, life affirming things in the world to simply sit and watch a flower open before your eyes.

As I did this I began to notice the beauty of the unexpected: the underside of a leaf, the glow of the inside of a blossom illuminated by a filtered pinpoint of sunshine, the sparkling fur on a newly unfurled tendril. It is not, I found, simply the obvious (though undeniable) beauty of the ideal flower at its peak of perfection that moves me the most.

The showy magnificence of a hibiscus flower in full splendor is obvious and unremarkable – like a beauty queen with perfect teeth in a pageant full of the same: we expect that beauty and therefore pay it little attention. How often though have you taken the time to look at the flower after it has withered and fallen the ground? I never had until this summer and it has caused me to look at everything a little differently.

Morning glories of course only last a few hours before they begin to fade. One of my favorite varieties produces a white blossom with delicate paintbrush strokes of pale blue. As they begin to wilt in the early afternoon sun they transform. The colors intensify and even change from light blue to violet and indigo. In the late afternoon they crumple in upon themselves creating shapes reminiscent of the art nouveau carvings from the turn of the century by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Rene Lalique – it is not hard to see where these artists found their inspiration. Each of these crumpled forms has its own dramatic expression and, for me anyway, an emotional impact.

Hibiscus blossoms wilt and wither quite differently and have a spectacular beauty once they have fallen that, to me, far surpasses the beauty of the flower at its peak. Like morning glories, hibiscus blossoms intensify in color in the early stage of dying. My plant this year was a lovely shade of saffron and when the flowers began to wilt they would transform into deeper shades of glowing orange with highlights of gold and the petals took on the look of billowing fabric. Some of the shapes they made took my breath away.

I have always taken lots of pictures of my garden just for my own pleasure and to gauge the growth but this year I decided to try something different. Throughout the summer, sometimes for hours at a time, I took thousands of close-ups pictures. Many of the shots are quite artificial by design. I played with the lighting using diffusers or carefully reflected light and often I arranged fallen blossoms into a sort of organic mosaic and photographed the result. I dubbed this endeavor my “Summer Photo Project”.