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Richard Learoyd, Day 2, 2020, camera obscura Ilfochrome photograph mounted to aluminum, 32" × 32" (81.3 cm × 81.3 cm), image, paper and mount, 39-5/8" × 39-3/8" × 2-1/2" (100.6 cm × 100 cm × 6.4 cm), frame, signed in ink on label affixed verso to frame, unique © Richard Learoyd

Photography in Focus

Richard Learoyd

By Lauren Panzo

A few years ago, Richard Learoyd called me and said, “Well, I’ve done it. I’m photographing flowers.” I responded, “If anyone can do this in a different way, it is you.”

From Rembrandt van Rijn to Irving Penn and David Hockney, depictions of flowers pervade the history of Western art across movements and mediums. Drawing inspiration from 17th-century Dutch master still life paintings, Learoyd set out to translate this well-known subject through his own unconventional, antiquarian photographic process.

Made in his London studio shortly before the COVID-19 closure, this series comprises images of withering blooms that become visual meditations on the human condition. Using a custom-built, room-sized camera obscura that exposes photographic paper directly to light, Learoyd photographs the same arrangement of flowers, positioned on a strong, beautiful piece of found wood, over consecutive days. As you move through these daily studies, your eye focuses on different elements of the presentation – the intense detail of a flower bud’s “hairs” or trichomes, for instance, or the deep crimson hue of a wilting blossom’s petal.

Learoyd explains, “For me my pictures of flowers are an exercise in balance. An arrangement of mass and colour in space, the weight of meaning in the old and new, a compositional conundrum of how wrong a picture can be before it tips over the edge of stupidity. Flowers only last a day or two once they are uprooted. These pictures explore the beauty in aging and decay. They measure the old and the fresh. When I look at them, I evaluate their success simply on how they feel, the quality of the colour and how they communicate the fragile nature of life and the inevitability of an end.”

It is Learoyd's unparalleled passion for the medium and its materials, coupled with his incessant curiosity, that drive him to constantly broaden and refine his photographic approach. As Learoyd's ambitious field of vision expands – technically and thematically, inside the studio and out – his images continue to challenge the barrier of illusion and absorb viewers in the experience of looking.

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Richard Learoyd, Perfect poppies, 2020, camera obscura Ilfochrome photograph mounted to aluminum, 32" × 32" (81.3 cm × 81.3 cm), image, paper and mount, 39-5/8" × 39-3/8" × 2-1/2" (100.6 cm × 100 cm × 6.4 cm), frame, signed in ink on label affixed verso to frame, 1 in a series of 3 unique photographs © Richard Learoyd

Essays — Photography in Focus: Richard Learoyd, May 1, 2020