The Supposed Sexual Meaning of a Flower

Zantedeschia albomaculata, from L’Illustration Horticole v.7 (1860), by Charles Antoine Lemaire (1801-1871), and Ambroise Verschaffelt (1825-1886)

 

Zantedeschia is a genus of eight species of herbaceous perennial flowering plants in the family Araceae, native to southern Africa from South Africa north to Malawi. The genus has been introduced on all continents except Antarctica. Common names include arum lily for Z. aethiopica, calla, and calla lily for Z. elliottiana and Z. rehmannii although it is neither a true lily (Liliaceae), nor an Arum or a Calla (related genera in Araceae). The colourful flowers and leaves are highly valued, and both species and cultivars are widely used as ornamental plants.

The name of the calla lily is not only just a common name that never is used professionally, it is also totally misinformative since the calla lily is neither a calla nor a lily. Once it was considered to be a calla and the discoverer, famous Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, actually categorized all similar plants under the calla genus. When further testing proved that not all callas were not closely related enough to be considered as one genus it was split up by the German botanist Karl Koch and the calla lily genus became known as the zantedeschia genus. The name of the genus was given as a tribute to Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773–1846) by the German botanist Kurt Sprengel (1766–1833).

Zantedeschia is monoecious in which separate male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers (imperfect or unisexual flowers) are carried on the spadix. The flowers are small and non-blooming with an absent perianth. The male flowers contain two to three stamens fused to form a synandrium, and the female flowers have a single compound pistil with three fused carpels and three locules. Zantedeschia shares the general properties of the Araceae family in causing contact irritation. Zantedeschia species are also poisonous due to the presence of calcium oxalate crystals in the form of raphides.

It is not really clear when this genus showed up in Europe, but based on an illustration from the Royal Garden in Paris in 1664, it is safe to say that it was grown in Europe at that time. Zantedeschia became a very popular flower after that, showing up at funerals, weddings and practically any festivity in Europe. It was especially popular since it could be made to bloom all year around in the southern to centre parts of Europe using simple greenhouses. It was a flower that could be grown even when the sky seemed dark.

Zantedeschia or Calla lily is a very beautiful flower. During the flower language boom in the Victorian period of the 19th century, there were strict social codes and if one had to express ones feelings, flowers were the best medium. Flowers delivered the feelings subtly and every part of gifting a flower, carried secret flower meanings. The person who made the offer to the way the flowers were arranged, all had a specific meaning. Thus passionate messages were delivered to the recipient, without the use of words through flowers. During this time, calla lily was used to express many such hidden symbols. Calla lily due to its physical resemblance to female genitalia was called an overtly sexual one. This sexual calla lily meaning was brought forward to admirers by Sigmund Freud and  it was the favorite subject of artists like Diego Rivera and Georgia O’Keeffe.

 

Callas, Imogen Cunningham, 1925

 

Two Callas, Imogen Cunningham, c. 1926

 

Black and White Lilies, Imogen Cunningham, 1928

 

Calla Lily with Roses,Georgia O’Keeffe, 1926

 

White Calla Lilly, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1927

 

Two Calla Lilies on Pink, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1928

 

Caricature of Georgia O’Keeffe as “The Lady of the Lily”, Miguel Covarrubias, 1929

 

The Great Masturbator, Salvador Dalí, (1929)

 

Flower Vendor (Girl with Lilies), Diego Rivera, 1941

 

Portrait of Natasha Gelman, Diego Rivera, 1943

 

Nude with Calla Lillies, Diego Rivera, 1944

 

The Flower Carrier, Diego Rivera, 1953

 

Prehistory of Desire, Marc Quinn, 2010

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Penelope’s Hungry Eyes

Self-portrait, London, 1972

 

Abe Frajndlich was born in 1946 to in Frankfurt. At the age of ten he moved to the United States via Israel, France and Brazil. His role model and mentor was photographer Minor White, from whom he learnt “the art of seeing”.

It is with “hungry eyes”, but also with a tenacity and patience only equaled by Penelope’s firm belief in the return of her husband Odysseus, that over the last 30 years Abe Frajndlich has taken portraits of his famous fellow photographers. A selection of over 100 pictures from the ever growing portrait collection has been published in book form for the first time under the title Penelope’s Hungry Eyes. It features grand old masters of the art and photographic artists, contemporaries of the author and younger masters from the Düsseldorf School.

Abe Frajndlich has succeeded in luring the world’s most famous photographers out from behind their cameras and in front of his. With extraordinary skill, he has trained his lens on people used to hiding their own eyes behind a camera. For each of his portraits (some in color, some black and white) Frajndlich has conceived an individual setup that brings into focus in diverse ways the photographer’s primary organ, namely their eyes, which are as special as the voice of talented singers. Some of the photographers shy away by closing their eyes, wearing a mask or turning away (Cindy Sherman, Annie Leibovitz, Thomas Struth or Hans Namuth). Others use props such as glasses, mirrors or magnifying glasses to set their eyes in scene (Bill Brandt, Duane Michals, Andreas Feininger, Lillian Bassman) and still others draw attention to the vulnerability of their eyes using knives and scissors (Imogen Cunningham, Lucas Samaras). Yet many of the subjects respond to the unfamiliar “change of perspective” by looking directly into Frajndlich’s camera (Candida Höfer, Berenice Abbott, Gordon Parks).

Abe Frajndlich has presented a Who’s Who of recent photographic history, enriched with a highly subtle eye for humorous situations. In images and text (the photographer has added a personal note to each portrait) Frajndlich sets out to discover the ever enigmatic relationship between the real person and their own legend.

 

Lucas Samaras
 

Bill Brandt

 

Josef Koudelka

 

Arnold Newman

 

Robert Lebeck

 

Imogen Cunningham

 

Elliott Erwitt

 

William Wegman

 

Marc Riboud

 

Ruth Bernhard

 

Lillian Bassman

 

Louise Dalh-Wolfe

 

Ilse Bing

 

Dennis Hopper

 

David Hockney

 

Richard Avedon

 

Annie Leibovitz

 

Cindy Sherman

 

Andres Serrano

 

Harold Edgerton

 

Horst P. Horst

 

Norman Parkinson

 

Gordon Parks

 

Masahisa Fukase

 

Daidō Moriyama

 

Eikoh Hosoe

Photographing Poetry

Elsa Dorfman’s Influences:

Richard Avedon, an absolute genius. Mary Ellen Mark. Bill Cunningham, another genius whose work looks sooo simple and it surely isn’t. See him in every Sunday in New York Times style section. Photojournalists. Diane Arbus of course, Sanders, Lee Friedlander, a real hero of mine. He keeps on going. I adore photography books and looking at images on the web. I go to galleries as much as I can, considering my hermit tendencies. I look at everyone’s portraits. I also like architectural photographs. Of course I think they are portraits… just of buildings not persons.”

 
 

Elsa Dorfman and the Giant Polaroid Camera

 
 

“I picked up a camera, a Hasselblad, on my job as an assistant science teacher in 1964.  I was taught by a wonderful gifted teacher George Cope who had worked with Berenice Abbott. So there was some romance and a science of history in the air.

“Photo” offered me a path to the world. I was 27 and till then cdnt figure out what I would do, how I would live, who I would be friends w. I was very soulful and very confused. Typical for that time in history. I was ambitious. But ambitious about WHAT? I learned that I had great curiosity. That I had a sense of narrative.  That I had empathy. And that I liked a certain amount of adventure.”

 
 

Self-portrait

 
 

Jorge Luis Borges

 
 

Borges photographed by Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon respectively

 
 

Bob Creely

 
 

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

 
 

Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso

 
 

“Allen and Peter, who I knew better than I knew Gregory, always made me feel I could do things, that I could / should try things. In the early sixties in the US women didn’t have much opportunity and they didn’t believe in themselves. I know that is a trite expression.  Anyhow, I was very conventional, or at least I felt I should be conventional. And they made me feel I was OK and could be the way I felt like being, whatever that was. So I tried things. And the camera was what I stuck with.  But I do love to write.”

 
 

Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky

 
 

Ginsberg and Orlovsky by Richard Avedon

 
 

“I started using the polaroid 20×24 on feb.8, 1980. The studio was in an old building at 20 Ames Street in Cambridge. The bldg is now the site of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology art museum. I visited the studio the day before to see what the set up was and to get a sense of the camera. Poets Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky were visiting me and Polaroid allowed me a free session on the camera in exchange for my giving them a few original prints. I was allotted ten shots and I went over the allotted number because I got so caught up in the excitement of the camera. As Allen and Peter and I were leaving for the studio I grabbed a red amaryllis that my husband had bought me and brought it with us for the session. I had no idea how I would use the amaryllis. Here are three images from the session.”

 
 

Dorfman met Ginsberg in 1959, when she was a secretary for his publisher, Grove Press.  He “never doubted he would be a great man,” she recalls. “And he had the feeling that all his friends were equally genius.”

 
 

Ginsberg and Bob Dylan

 
 

“He (Dylan) asked me if I knew where Poe was born in Boston, and I didn’t. He had an idea where it was and wanted to go there. Amazingly right now, fifty years later or so, Boston is putting up a statue at Poe’s birthplace. Also, the security guards had taken my camera. But when Allen and I told Bob that I would love to take a picture of them together but I didn’t have my camera, Bob asked his security guy to get my camera!  I have Bob to thank for that picture.  And I gave Bob a copy of the Housebook.”

 
 

Bod Dylan

 
 

Anne Sexton

Coming Out of the Cocoon

Dedicated to my boyfriend Paul

 
 

It was the third and final single off Björk’s Vespertine. The music video was as controversial as the previous one for Pagan Poetry (Nick Knight). Cocoon video was directed by Japanese multi-disciplinary artist Eiko Ishioka. Björk wrote the lyrics along Danish electronic musician Thomas Knak. In some verses there are sexual-erotic euphemisms and metaphors depicting how a girl is feeling since love took has taken her by surprise.

 
 

Front and back cover from Björk’s Volumen Plus (2002).