Struan Gray


Until recently, I had no great interest in botany. True, the patterns and structures formed in the landscape by communities of plants have always fascinated me, and I love how Nature's amoral implementation of the art of the possible subverts human strivings for tidiness, but I have never wanted to look in detail at particular species, and it never bothered me particularly if I was unable to name the plants I was photographing.


There is a tension between the scientific urge to systematise and regularise, and the appreciation of plants and landscapes as specific, individual entities. To me, the sheer diversity of forms and combinations adopted by plants and flowers is one of their main attractions, and applying overly neat labels seems at odds with appreciating the aesthetics of their profuse, diverse, irregularity. I also love the feeling of discovery experienced when exploring a landscape, even a familiar one, and that can be lessened by the sense that superior experts have already counted the hairs on the underside of every leaflet.


And yet, knowledge has an insidious usefulness. Learning the names of plants is like learning the names of people: it changes how you regard and interact with them, and provides a hook on which to hang ideas, feelings and information. The common names and the scientific names of plants include a trove of history, folklore, medicine, and humour, and the details of a plant's physiology and chemistry help with understanding its form and distribution, and how it interacts with the other plants and animals around it. So, over the last few years, I have been trying to learn more about the formal science and identification of plants, and to feed that knowledge into my photography.


The photographs shown here still represent an attempt at empiricism, and they are motivated by a desire to discover, not confirm. Even in the wildest landscapes, there is a temptation to be a gardener, selecting and showing only things which accord with a conventional sense of natural beauty. The ability to look closely can easily become clouded by the desire to be pleasing, or by a concern with status. I have attempted a naive indulgence of my interest in structure, abstraction, and pure colour. The choice of subjects has been driven by curiosity, rather than any prior sense of the value or beauty of the plants themselves. Weeds and ruderal species have often figured in my photography before now, because I admire their ingenuity, persistence, and opportunism. Here, they, and others, appear as individuals, appreciated for the strength of their visual appearance.






Shepherd's purse












Fool's parsley








Sheep's bit



























Images and text copyright © Struan Gray 20032016.  All rights reserved.