I can’t even remember how I came upon these photographs, but I know that I love them. They are the work of Naomi Fisher, a multimedia artist and Miami native. I appreciate them on a superficial level – a bit lascivious, a lot suggestive, combining two of my favorite things: plants and being in the nude. But I also see them in a deeper, more haunting light that makes me at once jubilant and sad. Perhaps the sadness is in part due to the fact that these images have no context – Fisher does not have a web presence, and aside from a few ancient interviews, there’s almost no information to be found on their creation or meaning. In a sense, they are homeless.
But if there’s one man who could care for these orphan images, it would surely be Chris Way, author of the art blog SnailCrow. His 2012 post on what he calls Fisher’s “sex-subtropical” work is so well written and insightful that I didn’t even want to attempt to paraphrase it. Instead, I asked his permission to repost it here, a request that he kindly granted.
So please read on for Way’s fantastic article, first published May 19th, 2012.
Untitled (Heliconia in Warm Sunlight), 2000
Assy Flora Suite of 3, Pink Hibiscus, Royal Poincettia, Orchid Tree, 1999
“I’m a big fan of Naomi Fisher’s work in general, but I especially love her 90’s sex-subtropical work, five pieces of which are featured here. These pieces are lurid, cheeky, menacing and alive with dark, provocative joy. They’re ripe with overlapping themes & suggestions: the human human body as subtropical flora (bringing to mind the ancient trope of male/female genitalia as resembling petals, flowers, mushrooms, sap, nectar, seed, etc.); human intercourse with said flora (useful to remind ourselves that flora are essentially genitalia); humans taken sexually & against their will by said flora; flora growing up and through humans; humans presenting themselves for dehumanized sexual consideration just as the genitalia that are flora offer themselves up to pollinating insects; humans interacting with the density and fecundity of the subtropics in flirty romp, in perilous ritual, in wary tread, in engulfed paralysis. The master theme that emerges for me is the conflation or cohabiting of the human sex drive (coupled always with shame and tension) with the unselfconscious reproductive mechanisms of nature, and the danger and total liberation of that resulting relationship.”
“Some personal context: having grown up in subtropical Florida, I’m used to its flowers, trees and leaves, birds and bugs and shells and all things between being presented in the friendly visual language of a tourist economy. Billboards, TV spots, magazines, restaurant menus, schoolbooks: everywhere I looked I saw nature presented as safely lush and delightful and anthropomorphized: we’re talking laughing dolphins and winking toucans and endless washes of unnaturally-hued key lime green and Sunkist orange. Or some ferns and fronds and bougainvillea and cabbage palms as backdrop for svelte models in magazine ads hawking jewelry or silken garments or something, always sweet and trimmed and charming and tamed.
But that’s nothing to do with the southwest Florida nature I knew and loved (and held in awe) as a boy: nature for me was visceral, threatening, overwhelmingly fertile, annelid-wriggling, spider-crab gnarled and barnacled, horseshoecrab-alien and skittering. It was unstoppably teeming and heedless of humankind’s efforts to corral and contain it. Damp, rank, decaying, hiding stuff under leaves and within masses of over-vined thickets, mysterious and powerful. Fisher’s photos here tap right into this spirit for me, and it feels only right that their human subjects (“accessories” might be a better term) should appear variously or sometimes simultaneously as violently ravished playthings; dehumanized trunks and rumps existing only to present themselves for use (just like flowers; notice the floral print on the panties in “Assy Flora”); folks caught in some midnight ritual of reconnecting with the raw vitality of nature; lost bewildered captives in their mangrove-root cages and among throngs of phallic, flared lilies and birds of paradise and swordlike heliconia.”
Booty Bouquet, 1998
Sparkly Shirt and Untitled (Dying Yellow Tulips), 2000
“My favorite piece of the five above is “Sparkly Shirt”. Those yellow pollen-looking smears on her legs, the unnatural pose as if she’s in the midst of being taken by flowers or ready to offer herself to them, the print of her shirt as if she’s an acolyte trying to appease some subtropical spirit. Her hair hangs across her features, further dehumanizing her — clear shots of faces seem almost impossible to find in Fisher’s subtropical photos of this period — and linking her to the non-human otherness surrounding her. The lighting is glared and tabloidish; the whole staging has this forbidden and not-meant-to-be-seen energy, making us feel like we’ve stumbled unwanted into this exciting interzone where humans and nature thrash and try to mix into one another in ceremony, ecstasy, pain, longing.”
Untitled (Dangling Heliconia), 2000
Have you got the chills, or is that just me? I wish Way had been around to write some of my school textbooks, because I probably would have retained a lot more information! He hits the nail on the head for me – these pictures make me want to take a sabbatical and go romp around in the jungle, but feel a little embarrassed about it. Way reminds us that all flowers are a plant’s genitalia, an observation echoed in Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk, wherein the titular character refers to a bouquet as “bunches severed genitals of rose plants, vagina and penis of daisy and carnation plants, ﬂaunted color and scent of many inviting plant life sex organs” (21). Romantic, right? But it’s interesting to me the way these photos highlight the fact that we are uncomfortable looking at the sexual parts of our own species’ bodies, but have no problem carrying, arranging, smelling and viewing the genitals of anothers. Fisher has given her viewers a lot to think about, and that’s the cornerstone of good art.
Untitled (Black Dress), 2000
All photos © Naomi Fisher.
Original content © Chris Way. For more information, please visit SnailCrow.