Peter Black. Untitled, no. 8, from the portfolio 'Foliage', 1985, black and white photograph, silver gelatin print. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Flowers and Foliage 

Exhibition now closed
22 February – 23 August 2007
Free entry
Nature; Arts 

This exhibition showcases two portfolios of photographs. One is by the celebrated and often controversial American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe; the other by Wellington photographer Peter Black.

Both photographers have created images of controlled and restrained nature. Mapplethorpe’s flower photographs are elegant, luxurious, and sophisticated. They are perfect specimens in the studio, cleaned up and isolated from nature in the wild.

In contrast, Peter Black documents how trees and plants are used and constrained in the wider urban environment. The nature he portrays is more untidy than Mapplethorpe’s, but his images reveal that people’s everyday treatment of plants is no less controlling than that of a studio photographer like Mapplethorpe.

Peter Black

Peter Black is usually known for his photographs of people in public places. But throughout his career he has alternated this ‘street photography’ with carefully focused portfolios on a particular theme. Examples include ‘Sites’, on Wellington subdivisions, and ‘Foliage’, shown here.

‘Foliage’ is structured as a progression from indoor plants and trees in urban environments to wilder settings where trees are less constrained but still have their environment shaped by human intervention.

In each of the photographs Black has taken the dull greys of cityscapes and greens of foliage and has abstracted them to the luminous silvery grey of the black and white print.

Peter Black began photographing in the 1970s. His major exhibitions include Fifty Photographs (National Art Gallery, 1982), Moving Pictures (City Gallery, Wellington, 1990), and Real Fiction (City Gallery, Wellington, 2003).

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe is well known for his sexually explicit, elegantly composed male nudes. But throughout his career he also made portraits of friends and celebrities in the arts and entertainment fields - and took still lifes of flowers.

His photographs are composed in a rigorously precise style that recalls the dramatically lit high-fashion studio photography of the 1930s.

Of his flower pictures, Mapplethorpe said, ‘Some of them have a certain sinister side to them, I think. A certain edge, a creepy quality.’ And in response to suggestions that his flowers had a sexual quality, he observed, ‘They are not fun flowers. I don’t know how to describe them, but I don’t think they are very different from body parts.’