Six years ago, John Arsenault started making the images in his new book For You! Modern Day Love Letters as visual tributes to his partner, Raf, who is now his husband. Shot with an iPhone and posted on Instagram with the caption “For You!” the images were a secret message at a time when their relationship was new and private. But as Arsenault writes in the introduction to the book, published this week by Daylight Books, eventually he switched to a 35 mm digital camera and “slowly these flowers have become a gift for everyone: For You!” The result is a collection of roses, seen up close or in small bouquets set in plastic water bottles or elaborate vases, which act as love poems of a sort, depicting a subject with a long and glorious association with romance.
Arsenault’s subjects, however, are not always pristine specimens at the peak of their bloom—many are slightly past that moment and starting to wilt or brown at the edges. Rick Hushka writes in the book that although roses as a subject are “almost absurdly saccharine,” Arsenault manages to make them “edgy and toxically poignant. He suspends color and time within the photograph, allowing the viewer to indulge his or her need for aesthetic experience.” Unafraid to take on a subject that has been celebrated by everyone from seventeenth century Dutch flower painters to Georgia O’Keeffe, Arsenault’s images are simple celebrations of the flowers he buys weekly at the farmer’s market. As Arsenault explains, “My intention wasn’t to show ideal beauty or perfection, but rather show beauty through the imperfections—the natural blemishes and bruises define their beauty. Contrasts between new growth and dying petals give the images a tactile quality. There’s a darkness to these flowers even in the light of day—a mysteriousness and sensuality. My goal was to capture portraits of roses, celebrating the process of aging with an evocative, dreamlike quality.” On Tuesday, December 12, Arsenault will sign copies of the book at MOTT NYC, which also hosts an exhibition of the work.
Nothing But Flowers
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