Trending: AI-Augmented Roses, and "Pornosynthesis"

By David Schonauer   Monday August 12, 2019

A rose by annoy other name would smell as sweet.

But what about a rose that’s been photographed with an iPhone and then turned into large-format artwork with the use artificial intelligence?

That is what noted fashion photographer Nick Knight did to create a series of pictures now on view at Albion Barn, Oxfordshire, UK. The images are sumptuous — indeed, as AnOther noted recently, “they rank with Robert Mapplethorpe’s phallic stamens and Irving Penn’s ethereally floating poppies as amongst the most exquisite committed to print.”

And while Knight’s roses are suffused with beauty derived from digital technology, they “have powerful links with centuries of imagery, by Renoir and Redoute, as well as various cultural stimuli: romance, death, and the potent symbolism of the flower, especially in an England shaped by the War of the Roses,” writes fashion journalist Alexander Fury.

Meanwhile, photographer Catherine Losing and art director Robert Graves-Morris are interested in some specific anatomical bits and pieces when they take pictures of flowers. Their series “Pornosynthesis,” notes Feature Shoot, is “a visual journey into the sexuality of plants, giving us a close-up view of the inside parts of flowers.”

The series, adds FS, was influenced both by vintage 70’s pornography magazines and by the photographers’ concern for bee populations and environmental issues.

Nick Knight: Roses

Known for his fashion photography and his pioneering use of digital technology, Nick Knight began shooting roses in the early 1990s, when he spent three and a half years photographing selections of pressed flowers from the UK’s Natural History Museum, notes AnOther. He later photographed roses for Lancôme advertising campaigns. But his affection for roses goes back further: His mother’s middle name was Rose, and, adds the website, he had a rose tattooed on one shoulder when he was younger.

The roses in his current exhibition were photographed at his kitchen table, in natural daylight. His camera? An iPhone. In order to create large prints — some larger than 150 square centimeters (about 59 square inches) — the iPhone images are “fed through a new form of AI (only six months on the market),” notes AnOther. According to Knight, the AI “pulls from millions of images of roses” to fill in the gaps and increase the resolution.

The technique, notes AnOther, “leads to a slightly unreal, surreal look to the images.” Says Knight: “If you look closely, you can see weird, slightly glitchy things. When you get close, the texture is quite new. If you were looking at an old master, you’d get brushstrokes. If you were looking at a photograph you’d get grain. This is a new thing, a new visual language.”

Knight’s flowers “stop short of Mapplethorpe’s ‘New York’ blooms – gritty, aggressive, stridently turgid or flaccidly spent – but nevertheless, they have an edge,” notes AnOther. “His CGI roses have razor-sharp petals; his photo-paintings drip viscerally, almost corporeally.”

“Nature can be brutal,” Knight says. “Nature’s very tough. Roses have thorns.”

Catherine Losing and Robert Graves-Morris: “Pornosynthesis”

The plants in the series “Pornosynthesis” are, notes Feature Shoot, “glazed to the point of dripping.” Cue up some appropriate music and enjoy.

Like the 70s porn imagery that inspired the work, the sexuality in the photographs of flowers by Catherine Losing and Robert Graves-Morris is an artifice meant to entice. The reproductive plant organs pictured in the series are, in fact, all modeled from clay by Graves-Morris, and, he notes, “shot in seedy manner” by Losing.

This, Losing says, was done by using light to add texture and form to still life subjects. “We also used a fair bit of a still life staple—glycerine—to add some juices,” she adds.

The result, notes FS, are intimate images of flower parts surrounded by “hazy and seductive auras that glow like a luminous mist.”

“The viewer is brought into extreme close range of the flower stem, giving it an appearance that is almost hyper-real, or perhaps otherworldly, making these plants seem unfamiliar and at times exotic,” writes Christina Nafziger.

By opting to photograph the reproductive organs of flowers, rather than their blooms, the “Pornosynthesis” series is meant to draw our attention to pollen and pollinators — bees, whose populations are in rapid decline, notes FS.

In tongue-in-cheek manner, Losing and Graves-Morris call the work “Utterly degrading to plant life and scientifically inaccurate” and “sure to be of particular interest to the discerning botanist or curious amateur.” There’s a book whose proceeds go to The Bee Cause and Friends of the Earth.


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