If there’s anything more beautiful than the human body, it’s flowers. Few know this better than iconic floral designer Walter Erra Hubert of Silver Birches studio, whose work has glammed up fashion, lifestyle, and architectural magazines, as well as film sets and events, for decades. In the course of this career, he worked with and befriended a host of talented photographers, interesting celebrities, and avant-garde artists, exploring increasingly expressive, interpretive, emotional, narrative and aesthetic dimensions of his muse and medium — flowers.
Then in the early ‘90s, while working on a photo shoot with Bruce Weber, the subject of flowers and photography came up. “We agreed that flowers seem to play a major role in shaping the visions of many artists,” Hubert recalls. “We evolved the idea of bringing together the work of a group of photographers into a single volume that would pay homage to flowers. The response to my invitation was overwhelming.” He’s not exaggerating — figures from Weber to Greg Gorman, Steven Meisel, Duane Michals, Jack Pierson, Ellen von Unwerth, Claire Danes, Sofia Coppola, Herb Ritts, Richard Gere, Joel Grey, Malcolm McDowell, David Bowie, Linda Evangelista, Bert Stern, Walter Chin and dozens more all contributed or modeled for images following just one directive — “Show me how you feel about flowers.”
In 1997, after years of ideating, gathering, editing and working with the talented designer Sam Shahid, Hubert published the book with HarperCollins, and called it Naked: Flowers Exposed. In its large-format, elegantly printed pages, a range of subjects, styles, and stories approach every facet of art and storytelling, from conceptual and abstract to vintage and romantic, haunting and nostalgic, high fashion and highly personal, quotidian and super-fantastical, celebrity and celebratory, whimsical and erotic — and perhaps most poignantly, a seamless centering of a queer aesthetic. Emblematic of innocence, purity, love, desire, memory, death, birth, abundance, 25 years later, the book remains a timeless independent classic with a whole new life for its visions of botanical and biological beauty.
The images are almost all accompanied by short texts that explain the circumstances of their inspiration or their making — like Richard Gere visiting a young Tibetan monk, or the short film project that generated John Huba’s striking Daphne portrayal. Some offer nothing but the title, if that, leaving the viewer to solve the mysteries of the images themselves. But occasionally the contributor reached for a more expansive narrative, or for pure poetry. Following are four examples that together begin to give a sense of the breadth of the project.
Joe Lalli: Flowers frighten me. They’re so beautiful, and then they die. Beauty is a disappearing act. You have to capture it before it’s gone. That is why I own a camera. But there is another kind of beauty. That of the soul, which is eternal. Thomas, the guy in this picture, has both. If I had a son I would want him to be like Thomas. But no one is like Thomas. He’s one of a kind. A rare, exotic flower. He must have bloomed on Mars.
Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte: When I was a little boy in Cuba my mother always had sunflowers around the house. I remember having a very high fever and dreaming of beautiful large sunflowers floating on water with naked boys swimming underneath them and I was not able to touch them. From that day on, I’ve always fantasized about boys and sunflowers. Sunflowers not only light up a room, they light up the soul. I dedicate these images to all the friends I’ve lost, and hope that when they see these photos, their souls will light up. We miss you Gus, Michael, Giulio, Claudio and Carlos.
Mark Gerhardt Squires: From this evening to the sprouting, the blossoming to the decomposing, and finally the death. This is the beauty of life. My symbols for the beauty of nature and for life are the flower and the woman.
Joel Grey: Growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, I remember (I must’ve been 7 or 8) wandering alone in a wooded area near our house. I felt so small beneath the big trees and yet all safe and strangely excited by nature. But my favorite thing about these walks was finding a precious patch of lily of the valley. So perfect in design, so fragile, yet so sturdy and with the fragrance that made the larger flowers weep with envy. The years passed, and I recently had a dream that I was that boy again, walking in those woods again, but now that the trees are giant lilies of the valley. A look back that fills me with sweet sadness.
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