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    The winter was coming to an end, but it was still far until real spring, which is no earlier than late March or early April in Moscow, I was feel… Read More
    The winter was coming to an end, but it was still far until real spring, which is no earlier than late March or early April in Moscow, I was feeling in a desperate need of flowers. I had no one to give them to me, or rather, my boyfriend felt reluctant about flower giving. So I decided to make a series of photographs explaining the importance of flowers in a woman's life. It was apparent to me that flower portraits are too common-place, everyone has once been photographed with a flower in their hair or against a blooming lilac tree. I needed to think of something else, something more acute, to get my message across to the people. Then I thought of blind people, blind women to be more exact. Someone who cannot see but can feel the flowers, in the broader meaning of the word feel. My experience of doing this project turned out to be a very complicated and stressful one, but spiritually enriching and eye-opening. A quest for beauty, an attempt to understand what it is. One blind girl was told that she looks withered and not really beautiful in her photograph - just like a withered daisy. That's what she wrote: I don't want these photographs, let's pretend they never existed. What are the criteria of beauty? What is visible beauty? Can the 'beautiful' and 'ugly' exist in the perception of someone who does not have the instrument of assessment, the eyesight? Why do people impose their understanding of what is beautiful and what isn't on one another, and, what's even worse, on people who for physical reasons are unable to have their own idea about it. I questioned nine blind women aged 24-72 about what beauty is and took their portrait picture with flowers. I presented each of them with their favorite flowers. It was important that it be their favorite ones, so before each session I had to have detailed information: if one likes roses, what color they should be, if orchids, whether they should be the larger of smaller kind. Sometimes I would phone them from a flower shop in order to find out something, a nuance I felt uncertain about. Irina likes lilies, preferably light-colored, Tatiana loves tulips, especially when they are still in buds. To Galya and Lusya, the twins, it is important that the flowers are fragrant: that's why they equally like peones and chrysanthemums, they are less concerned about the color or size. The question of beauty is an eternal one, it is as old as the humanity itself. How old is the humankind? For as long as giving flowers has been regarded as an affirmation of beauty, a declaration of love. The symbolic importance of flower-giving was never disputed. But things have changed. Men no longer give flowers, seldom hold doors for you to pass, give their hand to help you get off a bus and let you pass ahead of them when entering a room. The very idea of femininity, or rather, let us use the word womanhood, has changed in a strange way. Men are becoming more and more woman-like whereas women no longer hesitate to openly compliment and give flowers to one another. Men with masculine behavior and women with feminine behavior are becoming alarmingly rare. These are the 21st century minorities. Women now can do almost anything, while men's potentials are decreasing. To give flowers to a girlfriend has become an almost-exploit. But girls, of any age, irrespective of social and gender changes, still want flowers: they like it when the flowers are given to them, they feel good when there are fresh flowers on their office desktop or night table at home. Call it a happiness hormone or something else, but flowers have a positive influence on female nature. They create a delicate atmosphere of happiness where girls feel comfortable. And this is not a question of color, shape or volume, it's something beyond. That's why even blind people can perceive flowers to the same degree as people who have eyesight. They don't see them, but the flowers are no less important and the effect of happiness upon receiving them is no less prominent, on the contrary, it is more evident than it would be with ordinary people. Because flowers appear much more rarely in their life: for an apparent reason. Natasha's husband explained that he dreads going into flower-shops: a blind person is too easy a customer - can buy anything - from broken to withered and rotten flowers. What's the point? He doesn't see anyway… The answers to my question about beauty were different ones, some of them were completely unexpected. Anastasia, for example, said that the most beautiful thing for her is a sunset on the seashore. Whereas human beauty on the physical level is of less importance: what she values most in people is kindness. Tatiana said that almost never thinks about beauty, but if she had to give her opinion, she would say her son Misha's face is beautiful. Galya and Lusia, the twins, said that to them beauty is about the special feeling of exhalation, festive mood, when one is happy and light-hearted. Another lady said that to her beauty is about being, feeling in love. Why then did she refuse to collect her printed portrait from me, and accompanied her rejection with the following comment: "My relatives didn't recognize me. They said I am fat and look around fifty. Not at all beautiful". So where is the truth? Does beauty equate kindness? No it doesn't. Since even blind people tend to treat its lack or absence as a major disappointment. The girl with daisies rejected my proposal of another, hopefully more successful photoshoot, moreover, she categorically rejected any initiative on my part to be of help or service to her. It appears, that just as receiving flowers is perceived by women as a physiological manifestation of male attention, in the same way, beauty in conventional European sense remains an unquestionable feminine possession that women strive to achieve, are anxious to keep, constantly jealous of and always wary of losing. And kindness, what about that? We are still living in the society where kindness is a plus but beauty is a must. Read Less
Irina. Of all flowers prefers lilies. 'There is a moment when a whiff of air from the window brings this fragrance and you realize that there are flowers around somewhere'.
Braille description of the portrait: A girl with long dark hair falling down in heavy threads, almost like a waterfall, is holding a lily with three closed buds and two half-opened blossoms. With her left hand she is gently touching the flower. Her eyes are half-closed, her dreamy gaze is directed at the lily. She seems to be in a silent communion with it. She is beautiful.
Maria. Loves roses, especially white ones. 'They remind me of my wedding day'.
Braille description of the portrait: A girl with long fair hair is standing with her head inclined sidewards, so as to let the hair fall along her right shoulder and arm. In her left hand she is holding a bouquet of write roses. The girl's eyes are half-closed and her face is tilted down towards one of the flowers. She is inhaling its fragrance and seems to be taken away: into a dream or a revery. She is beautiful.
Natalia. Prefers roses. 'Some people will say that they don't like red roses, but I love all kinds. Flowers change an ordinary day into a festive one'.
Braille description of the portrait: A woman with fine and delicate features that would remind connoisseurs of early Renaissance painting some characters from Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi and Jan Van Eyck paintings, is holding a bunch of roses. Her hair is short, she is wearing white clothes, she is positioned in profile, facing to the right. She is holding the flowers just the way one might be holding something precious, something one wants to feel intimately close but is wary of damaging or disturbing. Her left hand is sliding over the roses, her fingertips are gingerly touching the petal edges. It looks as though she is reading the bouquet and the text is filling her with calmness and quiet joy. She is beautiful.
Anastasia. Likes different flower kinds but prefers orchids, she likes the waxy surface of their petals and their relative longevity. 'They are unlike other flowers, they are more mysterious, they have a strange, complicated scent'.
Braille description of the portrait: a girl with a short haircut wearing a white blouse sits facing the camera, holding an orchid branch in her hands. She is inhaling the floral fragrance: there are a lot of blossoms on the long stem: maybe ten, maybe twelve. Very delicately, with her finger tips, she is bringing the flowering branch close to her face in order to smell the fine, elegant scent and feel the silky touch of the petals. She is submerged into a meditation, her dialogue with the flowers does not require any words. She is beautiful.
Tatiana. Most of all she loves tulips, white ones. She likes to touch them, feel the shape of the buds, the waxy firm surface and very delicate, barely perceivable fragrance - the smell of early spring.
Braille description of the portrait: A young woman is smiling gently as she stands facing the camera, her figure is symmetrically positioned against a light background and her gaze is directed strait. With her left hand she is pressing a bunch of tulips to her body. The flowers are very fresh, their firm stems and leaves don't allow her fingers to grasp them, so she is holding them with the whole palm of her hand. The young buds are still closed, there are a lot of them in the bunch: maybe fifteen. With her right hand she is hugging a small boy with enormous, luminous eyes, he looks almost like an angel from a Byzantine fresco. The palm of the mother's hand is under his chin: she seems to support his head as the most delicate of the world's flowers. Both mother and child are very beautiful, their image radiates calmness and some kind of universal knowledge-about-everything that one might feel from ancient icons and paintings by Old Masters.
Galya and Lucia, the twins. Most of all like peonies. They love the scent and the heavy, silky flower heads. 'They remind us of our mother'.
Braille description of the portrait: Two ladies in fair-colored clothes are sitting close to one another, facing the camera. Their faces are slightly turned towards the center of the frame. Together they are holding a large bouquet of peonies. We can see three hands: the woman on the right, with long hair gathered into a knot at the back of her head and locks on the sides of her face, is holding the bouquet with her both hands while the woman sitting on the left is supporting it from the front with her right hand. The three hands symbolize the sisters and their mother who seems to still be with them and invisibly supports them. There are peonies of different sizes in the bouquet: those that are completely open, with double furry middles, those that are half-open, and completely closed buds that look like small balls. The sisters appear to be contemplating the flowers and having a silent conversation with one another and someone else whose presence in the picture is invisible. They are beautiful.
Nadezhda. Most of all loves flowers that grow in her summer-place (in Russia it is called dacha): bluebells, turkish carnations, peonies, irises, daisies. For her they are associated with her husband, Victor, who built a house, planted a garden, brought up a daughter and worked for a few decades of years in the industry being completely blind one-handed - he only had his left left after an accident that also made him blind. 'He was an amazingly easy-going person, the soul of any company. Once we were to go to the theatre, I arrived at the date in a tram, got off - and he was waiting for me with a huge bunch of roses. So I had to ask him: 'How are we going to go to the theatre with all these flowers?'
Braille description of the portrait: A woman with thick, laying in beautiful waves grey hair and soft, kind features is holding an enormous bunch of garden flowers. All the flowers in it are white: white peonies, white bluebells, lungwort, daisies, red-and-white turkish carnations. She is holding the bouquet with both hands, very delicately, as if it were a newborn baby. Her dark sunburnt during garden work hands are in stark contrast with light tones of the flowers and her light, inspired face. She is very beautiful.
Girl with daisies. Most of all loves field flowers, daisies and lilac.
Braille description of the portrait: this is the portrait of the girl with daisies but you cannot see it because people with eyesight interfered and imposed their subjective opinion about what is beautiful and what isn't on someone who cannot have her own opinion on physical reasons.
This picture was censored by a blind person because of a negative feedback from a third party: a friend, a relative or someone else.