Emma Bass




A bottlebrush spray of pohutukawa flowers; plate-sized magnolias in rapturous flush; the sweet yellow bells of kowhai - at first glance many of the floral arrangements captured by photographer Emma Bass seem like a visual ode to form and foliage, petals and  precision. Yet look a little closer and you’ll discover another layer to her art. These are no chocolate-box images. Instead, they are laid-bare flower portraits that celebrate the joy in imperfection. The images are shot in the Japanese spirit of wabi-sabi – the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.

 “I wanted to challenge our concept of what is beautiful,” explains Bass who freelances for many of New Zealand’s leading lifestyle magazines. “In my working life, I’m usually trying to enhance what is in front of me, to crop out or disguise the imperfections – be it for a portrait or in a house or design shoot. For me, this project is about framing reality. The flaw itself is beautiful, because it is true to life.”

Although the flowers are immaculately photographed on a simple background and have a Zen-like aesthetic, these are blooms that are past their prime or not quite perfect. Further inspection reveals the magnolia petals are tinged with brown, the kowhai flowers have drooped and dropped, and the pohutukawa is primed to spread its blanket on the ground.

For Bass, the philosophy behind the project has touched a real chord. “The wabi-sabi ethos to find beauty in reality can be applied to our wider life – our bodies and the ageing process, even the ever-changing world around us.”

This is a hopeful exhibition and, although it speaks of mortality, is never maudlin. The images are uplifting, at once familiar, nostalgic and magnetic. All the flowers in the portraits were gathered in friends’ gardens or along roadside verges; the vessels Bass uses to contain them are from a collection she has built up over many years.

They were shot, not in a backlit studio, but on a stairwell ledge near her front door, in a thoroughfare amidst the loving chaos of family life. And for Bass, that is how it should be. After all, it’s the wabi-sabi way to discover art in the everyday.