The Genteel
July 5, 2020


New York-based photographer Dusan Reljin created an explosive image for Lancôme. Source:
Mark Segal Lancome Rose

Mark Segal for Lancôme. 

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Shakespeare was just one of countless fellows who romanticised and popularised the rose's appeal. Poets, playwrights, painters and perfumers have been paying homage to the flower for centuries, trying to capture the love flower's essence in verse, image and fragrance. All "as fair as a rose" clichés aside, there is, undeniably, something about the rose that calls out to our senses.

The rose's scent, appearance and texture has influenced not only the worlds of literature and art, but other diverse, "spin-off" arts and industries: the birth of the perfume industry (with the world's capital in Grasse, France), David Austin's English roses breeding empire, Christian Dior's fashion designs (his childhood villa "Les Rhumbs" and magnificent rose garden in Granville overlooking the sea is now a museum), to Lancôme - one of the world's leading luxury beauty and cosmetics companies.

And the flower's secret allure continues to be revisited and reinterpreted. Toronto's upcoming Luminato Festival is hosting Lancôme's Rôses by… photography exhibition, marking its North American premiere (the exhibition opened in Paris in late 2011 and toured the world's biggest cities throughout 2012). The cosmetics company commissioned 20 of the world's leading photographers - Patrick Demarchelier, Peter Lindbergh and Nick Knight among them - to "interpret Lancôme's emblem, the rose."

With the rose - itself a timeless symbol of beauty - a part of the brand's DNA since 1935, Lancôme could do no wrong in promoting this exhibition for the sake of its products and the arts. The photographers were given carte blanche to do as they pleased with the flower and the result is a stunning collection of 20 colour and black-and-white photographs that capture and re-interpret not only the rose but the concept of beauty.

 Beauty, and life, is fleeting [...] Delicate, smeared wafts drift off the petals and leaves to the left [of Jennifer Lund's black and white, negative photograph], producing an ephemeral and fragile effect.

One of the more dynamic and vibrant photographs of the exhibition is Serbian-born, now New York-based photographer Dusan Reljin's explosive image: a vivid, deep violet rose peeking out of an exploding mass of pale pink petals and peach powder, set against a black background. It's explicit in representing the rose (and beauty) as an all-encompassing - and even violent - force. Lancôme's president, Youcef S. Nabi, hoped that "Rôses by… awakens the senses," and Reljin's photograph is sure to not just awaken, but attack them.

Also likely to get you visually stimulated is Nathaniel Goldberg's photograph focusing in on a bunch of blood-red roses. The photograph's entire canvas is filled by just two colours: red and black, mixing and playing in the colour of the petals and the shadows between each flower. This colouring effect and tension enhances the roses' velvety and luscious texture, and instantly reminds one of a rose's association with seduction, carnality and sex.

Celebrity and fashion photographer, Tom Munro presented a black-and-white "French surrealist" vision of a rose. In a snippet from Women's Wear Daily's preview back in 2012, Munro said of his mesmerising photograph: "I started taking pictures of roses as still life images. Then I started sandwiching them with a picture I took many years ago, before solarizing à la Man Ray." And with that stark solarizing technique, of the spiralling petals drawing you deeper into the photograph, Munro captures the delicate yet hypnotising quality of the rose; the entrancing effect is comparative to a femme fatale working her magic on her prey.

Beauty, and life, is fleeting. Jennifer Lund's black-and-white, negative photograph reminds the viewers of this fact. A single, long-stemmed rose without thorns occupies the right side of the photograph. Delicate, smeared wafts drift off the petals and leaves to the left, producing an ephemeral and fragile effect. 

Likewise, Dominique Issermann's grainy, black-and-white photograph shares in the tragic quality that the rose can possess and convey. Issermann's rose looks fragile and abandoned: it is illuminated strongly from the right, casting long, stark shadows to the left of the image; this harsh effect reminds one of the flower's fragility and fatality, with the corners of some petals bent and possibly wilting.

Nudity, not surprisingly, was the appropriate backdrop for several photographers in Rôses byPatrick Demarchelier - one of fashion's most renowned photographers - thought up a more delicate and feminine beauty ideal: a single, pale pink and coral rose nestled strategically between a naked woman's thighs and her lower belly. The photograph seems to speak of a woman's softness and grace, with a shy quality and aesthetic that is reminiscent of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, where goddess Venus herself is covering her private parts and showered in blowing roses.

english photographer Josh Olins rose Lancome
Photographer Josh Olins used roses as adornments
and accessories against the naked body.
Source: Lancôme.

Rising English fashion photographer, Josh Olins, meanwhile, used roses as adornments and accessories on naked male and female bodies in his two photographs for the exhibition. Both models are anonymous; their faces are not photographed. The female model's body is screaming out with confidence: sporting a denim jacket, with hands tucked into the pockets of her unbuttoned, distressed denim shorts, and a wrath of peach-coloured floribunda roses encircling her exposed chest.

The image of the male model is somewhat the opposite in feeling: we see him sitting naked on a white stool with his bare back towards us, slightly hunched, head tilted, with only the denim jacket and a string of roses hanging off his shoulder. It's an image more of reserve, vulnerability and stillness.

Los Angeles-based photographer Mark Segal also presented two photographs using a fully nude female body to display an avant-garde, white rose headpiece. The first photograph shows the model from the shoulders up: head thrown back, with a large white rose headpiece and a white, thorn wrath encircling it, and covering her entire face - save the chin and mouth. The second presents the same model in profile: her shoulders are pulled back, arms parted, her pale, naked body almost blending with the backdrop - that white rose headpiece with thorn crown makes her look like an alien creature. Segal's interpretation of a rose is somewhat otherworldly and arresting - it presents a very obvious object (the rose and the woman) in a new and extraordinary way.

All 20 photographs that are part of Rôses by… offer viewers very modern takes on a flower and what it symbolises, reminding us that there is beauty and pleasure in continuously rediscovering and reinterpreting its myth. 

Rôses by… exhibition will show at the First Canadian Place in Toronto, Canada from June 14-20, 2013.



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