BIG FLOWER Photography by David Leaser
“Wow!” “Fantastic!” “Awesome!” – exclaimed the excited attendees of an event at Virginia Robinson Gardens. Award-winning fine art photographer David Leaser gave a spectacular lecture on his highly detailed, large-scale botanical images of exotic flowers. His work is in the permanent collection of the Huntington Library in San Marino, and he is the only artist to have won the Gold and Silver medals in the same category at the International Photography Awards. His work, Tiger’s Eye, was the only photograph accepted to be exhibited at the prestigious London Art Biennale.
Accompanied by his beautiful wife and adorable daughter, David explained how his passion for photography started. As a little boy in the second grade, his parents gave him a Polaroid Swinger, and from then on, throughout his life, he was excited to take photographs. While working at IBM, he was at a conference in Florida, where he took pictures of tropical gardens in Florida. Along with photos from Hawaii and the Huntington Library, he had enough pictures for a book on palms which “was a hit.” He was then commissioned to do a book on gardens in Hawaii. On a visit to the Huntington Library which carried his books, David chanced upon an exhibit of 19th century landscape artist Frederick Church. One painting of South America in particular inspired him to take photos and retrace Church’s footsteps in the Amazon. He then went on a private tour in Ecuador. “It’s hard not to take good photographs in the Amazon. Everything is so absolutely pristine and beautiful,” said David. Realizing that many people were taking very similar photographs, he had the epiphany to do something different. David focused instead on tiny, exotic flowers on the rainforest floor.
Back in Los Angeles, he started taking macro photos of flowers. However, his photo was too blurry in many parts. In the meantime, NASA came up with a gadget called a Gigapan that took highly detailed images. Taking advantage of the new technology, David used this camera along with another product called Stackshot to take multiple images and views of flowers. These images were then layered and stacked in one single composite so that everything was in total focus. Software that does the same process is now available, and is much more affordable (at around $50). A camera is hooked up to the computer which controls the lens through the software. The programs are called Helicon Remote for a Mackintosh and ControlMyNikon or ControlMyCanon for PCs.
David plants flowers from rare and exotic bulbs featured in catalogues from all over the world. There is even a company in Holland that carries tulip bulbs from the 17th century. “We have some that are the original survivors from the era of Tulipmania from the 1620s,” David said. Tulips were introduced from Turkey at the time of the Ottoman Empire. Broken tulips had a virus, called the mosaic virus which caused the striations and variegations of color that were unbelievably beautiful. However, this virus also caused the tulip to wither and die. As can be expected, enthusiasm for these tulips started to wane. After one tulip sold for the full price of a town, the market collapsed. David mentioned that today the mail order catalogue Old House Gardens also has heirloom plants that go back to the 16th century. “You can get tulips that were depicted in Renaissance artwork from Florence that haven’t been seen for hundreds of years,” David enthused.
The oohs and aahs emanating from the audience didn’t stop as David started showing slides of his breathtaking floral images — a single flower on either a white or black background. Orchids, daffodils tulips, fuchsias and dahlias danced before our eyes. David called one cosmos flower with billowing white petals “Marilyn” as the petals were reminiscent of the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe’s dress in the movie “The Seven Year Itch.” These photographs, one more gorgeous than the next, ranged from subtle elegance to dramatic visions. They are a part of a limited edition series where a reverse transfer image is fused onto metal, making it very durable.
David shared many tips to take gorgeous pictures, among which were: take lots of shots; shoot at dawn or dusk; use a tripod; use a flash that is diffused; and “treat your subject like a celebrity.” One helpful tip for an iPhone is to clip a polarizer on the front of the phone for outdoor shots. The colors are immediately richer and more saturated, as light is not being reflected off of the landscape. David generously showed the audience how to recreate the setup with the necessary equipment in one’s own home.
Several of David’s striking images were placed on easels in the Pool Pavilion. Beautifully complementing the lecture were the tables decorated by Education co-chairs Patti Reinstein, Ellen Lipson and Kerstin Royce. Brightly colored Gerbera Daisies in either yellow, pink or red dazzled as centerpieces on all-black tablecloths and napkins. The botanical theme was even echoed on the luncheon table. Large pink, yellow and red paper blooms adorned the display of a delicious lunch, catered by the Kitchen for Exploring Foods.
Besides giving the guests a brochure, David also gave a set of postcards of his gorgeous artwork. Luckily, David’s books and work will also be available for sale at the Virginia Robinson Garden Tour on May 20th!
A big thank you to Patti, Ellen and Kerstin for such a glorious, visually inspiring lecture that was a ravishing feast for the eyes! Also, a big thank you to Tania Norris for recommending David Leaser!
To learn more about David Leaser’s work, visit his website at: www.davidleaser.com
Post by Linda Meadows
Friends of Robinson Garden Board Member
Photos by Diane Jenkins & Linda Meadows