The beauty of the natural world has always touched us on a visceral level and examined in extreme close up. Lewin’s images dazzle our eye with their jewel-like colour and almost fetishistic macro detail. He was inspired by a book containing lithographs of Victorian pressed flowers he came across when staying with friends. “People find in these clusters all kinds of weird and wonderful things. Female genitalia, penises! It’s quite fascinating.” Seen in extreme close-up, the startling detail they offer can make us as feel we have somehow shrunk like Alice in Wonderland, while the blooms themselves have miraculously expanded.
In some pictures a very shallow field of focus makes the flowers appear to fly – while in others, the pin sharp focus of a macro lens allows us to contemplate their form and colour in the abstract.
But these images offer far more than simply a celebration of beauty. What gives the series it’s haunting edge is Lewin’s fascination with transience. For in addition to the untarnished perfection of the new bloom, these images record the first tinges of decay – the earliest intimations of mortality. In doing so he captures a paradox; fixed by celluloid, the ephemeral – the moment of transition from life to death – is fixed for ever. And as a result, in these elegiac and timeless portraits, we are able to stand for a moment and contemplate the impermanence of all living things. In exploring this theme, Lewin draws on a central preoccupation of both Eastern and Western philosophy. One thinks of Buddhism’s central tenet that all things must pass. Or of Keats and his preoccupation with the fleeting nature of beauty – in particular his famous line from ‘On Melancholy,’ “She dwells with beauty – beauty that must die.” And it is this underlying poignancy that remains with us long after we have turned away.
These painterly images are perhaps too, in part a homage to the work of Irving Penn, who like Lewin was inspired by the Hasselblad. It’s a camera Lewin felt was particularly well suited to this series because of it’s square format and unrivalled ability to capture detail.
Nick Lewin is a celebrated and award winning film director whose illustrious career has encompassed not only a wealth of feted commercials, but also a feature film (The Bloody Chamber/Paramount Pictures) and a documentary film on modern ballet (Tzcuk). His countless awards, both in America and Europe, have included the British Television Advertising Awards, the Clios and the Art Directors Club. Lisa Bryer, Executive Producer of The Last King of Scotland describes him as “the best commercials director I’ve ever worked with – a creative genius.” He studied at the University of Aix-en Provence, before learning his craft as an editor at Elstree Studios and later for Ridley Scot Associates where he worked with Ridley and Tony Scott as well as Hugh Hudson.
Lewin began directing commercials in the late 70’s arriving just as they were in their creative heyday. It was a forum that was to furnish him with a unique opportunity to push the aesthetic and creative boundaries, facilitated by the kind of budgets in which genuine innovation and experimentation could flourish. Lewin soon became much sought after for his original eye. He is a lateral thinker who thrives on the challenge of a compressed narrative and his background as an editor has instilled in him a passion for film and a fascination with exploring – and pushing its possibilities. His films were hall marked by a desire to challenge prevailing notions of beauty and perfection and the desire to perpetually reach for a ground breaking aesthetic.
It was during this fertile period that he first formed his passionate interest in fine art photography and became increasingly fascinated by exploring inanimate objects in innovative ways. Manhole covers, street markings, street furniture and architecture have all been re configured under Lewin’s inventive lens. These pictures of flowers are the latest addition to this on-going series.
Lewin has resisted the increasingly ubiquitous use of the digital format, preferring to experiment over the years with a wide variety of film formats and cameras in what has amounted to an on-going and life-long love affair with the creative potential of celluloid.