John Blakemore

15th July - 28th August

Tulips, a fascination, text and pretext for an activity of picture making.  Observation, the play of the medium, this surely is where the act of picture making begins.

Installation View, 2021

The following offers an edited impression of the exhibition running in the gallery until 28th August 2021.

Comprising a selection of hand crafted prints, several of which are being shown for the first time, Tulipomania delves into Blakemore’s enduring fascination with the tulip flower.

Over a twenty-year study, tulips were gathered, arranged and photographed in their numerous states of life and death; fresh, dried, dissected and decayed. From his earlier, ethereal depictions of the simple beauty of a vase of tulips to his sumptuously layered and intricate compositions, these photographs show Blakemore’s profound understanding of his subject and complete mastery of darkroom printing.

“Imagine a space, a domestic space, a familiar space.  The elements which structure that space, a table, chairs, prints on the wall, a vase of tulips and the defining light – light that illuminates, describes, transforms. A constant presence, there to be looked at, to be constantly observed; the continuous shifts of light, the changes of the seasons, of the weather.”

“The subject is not only the flowers, but all that the frame of the camera includes. The relationship between the curve of a stem and the curve of a chair, the geometry of the space produced by the meeting points of objects, the way wall and table edge meet. The strange geometries that the amputations of the frame may reveal.”

Installation View, 2021

“The simplicity of the early tulip images is about discovery, an intensity of looking. Shadows reflected in the glass of a vase, shadows which appear to be upside down to where we ‘know’ the flowers are situated.”

Installation View, 2021
Kitchen Series, 1990s

For this long-term study, Blakemore found inspiration in historical art and the still life paintings and drawings of tulips and other flora.

His obsession with the tulip is illustrated in the title Tulipomania, in reference to a period in the Dutch Golden Age spanning the 17th century; a time when the newly introduced and fashionable tulip reached excessive financial popularity as a high value item of exchange, with fortunes made and subsequently lost in the trading of rare bulbs.

Tulipa – The Generations No. 14, 1994. This print was exhibited in Seduced by Light at the National Gallery in 2012

“An exploration of the limits of tonality has been central to my practice since the mid-seventies.

To decide, at the moment of exposure, the tonalities I want in the final print and to have the control of process necessary to realize them.  Black and white, and the myriad nuances of grey, a multiplicity of connotation to be explored and utilized.”

Installation View, 2021

“An  awareness of things not previously seen. To observe, to photograph, to collect. Observation, an intensity of looking, awareness of the totality of the space.”

Tulipomania, No. 1, 1994

“In the prolonged exploration of a space, I like to think of possible oppositions, ‘simplicity’, ‘complexity’ for example. What are the most simple images I can make and still consider them part of the tulip work? How can I make complex images where response to the space might be problematized?”

Installation View, 2021
Tulipa – Garden of Earthly Delights No. 2, 2005

These exquisitely handprinted silver gelatin prints are not formally editioned and no more will be printed, offering the chance to acquire the very last of Blakemore’s iconic tulip prints.

John Blakemore (b. 1936) is one of the most revered and influential figures in British photography. Self-taught and starting his career under the Black Star agency, he developed his personal work to become one of the UK’s leading landscape and still life photographers. Exhibited world-wide, he is regarded as one of the finest master printers in the country. Blakemore has been the recipient of Arts Council awards, a British Council Travelling Exhibition and the coveted Fox Talbot Award for Photography. He was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1998 and became Emeritus Professor of Photography at the University of Derby where he taught from 1970 to 2001. He has published five monographs and his work has been acquired by private and public collections worldwide, including a significant archive at the Library of Birmingham. 

If you are able to visit in person, Tulipomania runs until 28th August. Please see our Contact page for more details

To enquire about potential purchases please view the TULIPOMANIA PRICE LIST at the base of the main exhibition page