The photograph reproduced on the back cover of Collier Schorr's Forests and Fields Vol. 1: Neighbors (Opium, 2005) describes a young girl's back as she sits on the slope of a hillock. Her long blond hair and white t-shirt providing a clean backdrop for some wild flowers and long strands of grass which she sits among. It is an image that seems to mark a starting point for her newest volume of the Forests and Fields work Blumen just published by Steidl.
Schorr has been photographing in the small town of Schwäbisch-Gmünd in Southern Germany over the past fifteen years. Her work includes portraits, landscapes and her own stagings which question both the identities of what it is to be "German" and her own status as an outsider. Her approach is quiet yet provocative, with many allusions to history and warfare.
In Blumen, Schorr has undertaken another kind of arrangement leaning more towards the abstract. A majority of the images are photographs of ephemeral flower arrangements which she constructs, not in a studio, but outside where they can be set against the sky. Using string and cut or plucked flowers, the fragile site-specific works are then photographed before the flowers wilt or destroyed by the wind. Seductively beautiful with their saturated color, many constructions, although static, introduce the sense of the blossoms caught in mid-flight to the ground - a slight departure from much of her other work which has a very stayed appearance. Others are almost bondage-like, tense and dominating.
Interspersed throughout Blumen, Schorr includes several images which purposely break what would be a straight forward thematic grouping of pictures. The best of which refer back to the floral constructions - a workshop wall of saw blades and tools haphazardly displayed; a stack of bricks with a bright blue product container and grouping of potatoes laid at its base; a store window display of translucent plastic containers - but have a quality of having been found in situ.
In Ripple (2006) she describes the shoreline of a lake with an arrangement of an open red knapsack, some yellow plastic bags, a small towel draped on a tree stump, all set against the dark rippling of the water's surface. In her past body of work she employed black and white tonalities and dressed her scenes with historical props - military uniforms and architectural details which scream of the past. With this work we are steeped in the present and the two books sit in interesting contrast to one another as chapters of on-going work.
I am conflicted with the full success of Blumen simply due to the inclusion of a couple images. Ideally there is a tension between what I perceive as the carefully constructed photographs and those that appear more impulsive but some of the latter seem simply superfluous. A picture of a slightly blurred garage wall with the hood ornament of a Mercedes for instance. Granted there are only a couple within the 50 images but for me they stick out so strongly that they brought me out of Schorr's fictional description of place and instead back in my mind questioning their blandness.
Blumen's design is elegantly simple. Several gatefolds break the rhythm, slowing the viewer down and enticing further consideration. The cover features no type and instead a wondrously topsy-turvy black and white image of plant shadows - I am not sure if it was originally a horizontal or a vertical - whose only sense of color comes from the tiniest speck of red.
For some, Schorr's theatrics might turn them away. My initial instincts towards such contrived work years ago was to question why I should invest myself in further thought towards images that are so contrived. Playacting demands a certain talent to entice and suspend bias in favor of exploration and discovery. In both of these books I find Schorr achieves a method which I am more open to even when she is pushing my limits. With Blumen she has done so with flowers, a subject which in the furthest reaches of my mind I wouldn't have believed possible.
Collier Schorr will be signing copies of Blumen at Dashwood Books at 33 Bond Street in New York City tomorrow Tuesday March 9th from 6-8pm. Sorry I previously listed the incorrect date!!