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There’s something illicit about the “Blumen” photos, a literal trespassing. In order to get the flowers, I have to go into strangers’ gardens and yards to steal them. Then I have to go someplace that’s not my place and build this thing; within minutes, the flowers begin to wilt, changing shape and color. And inevitably, the wind blows them down. It takes about six minutes to construct a structure. It’s the perfect illustration of the term deracinated. I like that about it, the clarity of its purpose. It’s the opposite of arranging a still life in a studio with a table—and unlimited time. Here, you tie a flower to two or three sticks and hope it stays up. After I take the picture, I take a step back and look at this little theater or shrine to nothing that I’ve built and then tear it down. The picture is a document of a public sculpture or an act of vandalism.


So much of my portraiture involves small props or costumes, things like skulls or keys or canes, or relatively obvious iconic objects. But the people are essentially being arranged between these objects and references. I wanted to make pictures of nature that also felt arranged and compromised. To take the most passive, feminine object of beauty and cut it loose, bind it, and then animate it with a heightened sense of emotion.


I made the first “Blumen” picture after looking at Robert Mapplethorpe’s Pictures book. I was struck by how much freedom Mapplethorpe was able to extract from his model’s restraint—that in tying up and cropping his models, he appears to be able to work with people as forms. I never thought about my flowers as related to his (which I saw as annoyingly erotic); I thought of them in relationship to bondage. I wanted to make the flowers more aggressive and ironic and less docile and sensual.


If you limit yourself to one place, it only changes so much; I found it necessary to start altering the landscape a little bit. I used to think in terms of comparative literature, where one interrogates a text by posing it against another. More and more, I am drawn to something less fictive or poetic and more concrete and descriptive. In the field of archaeology, discoveries can be used to prove ethnic mythologies—ownership is determined by artifacts. Imagine that something buried could be attributed to a culture, proving that one tribe arrived before another. And could interpretations manipulate history? I’ve always taken things from underneath and put them on top, so it would make sense that I would pull all the flowers out and try to see them better by contrasting them against the sky.


(as told to David Velasco,