Editor-at-Large Therese Ciesinski has a chat with prolific photographer Lynn Karlin, whose work has appeared everywhere from The New York Times Magazine to House Beautiful, about her striking farm-to-studio veggie shots.
Lynn Karlin is known for her superb garden photography. You’ve seen her work in magazines such as Country Living, Better Homes and Gardens, Garden Design and This Old House. Her two books, Gardens Maine Style, and Gardens Maine Style II, showcase the cultivated beauty found in the rugged Pine Tree State. But an “aha” moment at the farmer’s market turned her from landscapes to portraiture of more unlikely subjects: vegetables. Where you or I would put vegetables on plates, Karlin puts them on pedestals, where their colors, shapes and intricate patterns can be explored and admired. Here, Karlin talks about her art series of vegetable photography, “The Pedestal Series: Natural Beauties.”
A. People don’t really look at or see beauty in vegetables. I became entranced by a purple cauliflower I bought at the farmer’s market. I brought it home, put it on a white pedestal by an east-facing window, and photographed it.
A. Since 2008. I use local produce that I buy at the farmer’s market. When I’m looking for vegetables, I’m like a kid in a candy store. It’s like looking for a treasure at an antique store or flea market—what will I find today? I shoot the vegetables as soon as I get back to the studio. They are as I found them. Nothing is photoshopped.
A. Well, it has to fit on the pedestal! It doesn’t have to be beautiful, but must have interesting form, texture and structure. I do tend to lean towards the more beautiful and sensuous examples, though. And I look for the vegetable’s best side. Farmers are now cleaning their vegetables up too much for market. I look for ones that still have their leaves, stems, or roots. I want them in their entirety, intact.
A. Anything round, especially the large tomatoes. It took a long time trying to get them to balance but once they did, they stayed there for 12 hours.
A. I try to get them to balance on their own, without outside support. If nothing’s working, I’ll use a nail as a last resort. I spend a lot of time getting them to balance. Some, like the adamame (soybeans) on the branch, I just plopped down and they stayed the first time.
A. Close to one hundred.
A. Eggplants: there are Italian and Oriental, in white, purple and deep, rich rose. They have such varied shapes and sizes. And cauliflowers—I’ve shot dozens, I can’t resist. They come in so many colors. I love the way the leaves wrap around the head. They’re an amazing natural wonder. I’m amazed every time I see them. I always see something new.
Q. What are you striving for in these photographs?
A. To bring out the personality of each one—representative of what they should look like. To show their natural beauty and bring out personalities. I was always drawn to good design, and I’m drawn to the beautiful design of vegetables. I want to honor vegetables by literally placing them on a higher level.
A. The photo of squash blossoms shot for the regional publication The Hook won a Garden Writers Association Silver Media Award in 2011. People really respond to that photo. I think it’s because it’s the most flowerlike. The squash blossoms came as the bunch that you see, and stood up right away. Another award-winner from the Harvest Series is the 2014 Simply Raw calendar, which won a 2013 GWA silver award of achievement in photography.
A. I’m still passionate about it—I’m looking forward to the farmer’s market in the spring. It’s fun to look and find and style the vegetables. And I’ve done two more pedestal series: one on mushrooms and another on cheeses. These series are moving me towards doing more food photography.
Lynn Karlin’s fine art photographs are limited edition prints, signed and numbered, in three sizes, framed or unframed (starting in four-figure price range). For more information on the prints, or to purchase Harvest Series notecards with envelopes, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Her photo-rich “Simply Raw 2014” calendar is available for only $14.99 at Amber Lotus.