Tulipa Rococo

Much of Boo Beaumont’s photographic work in Metamorph, at the Royal Cornwall Museum 22 February to 30 June 2016, seems to be about the interior essence of things.
Her series of black and white portraits of remarkable women – twelve of which are exhibited in The National Gallery – have an intimate feel about them. The tight framing and low-key lighting positions the viewer as a reasonably welcome intruder on a contemplative moment and genuinely manages to capture something of what she describes as her subjects’ “inner spirit”
Beaumont’s series of X-Ray images of flowers which are currently on display at the Royal Cornwall Museum add a surprising dimension to her preoccupation with the interior essence of things and still manage to maintain that sense of contemplation that comes from the portraits. The images are hung in balanced, symmetrical blocks of white on black and black on white that have the same harmonious effect as lines of effortlessly rhyming poetry, and her flowers are elegant and strangely compelling. The black on white ‘inverts’, printed on Hanhnemuhle etching paper, could be mistaken for delicate graphite drawings, but it is the luminous white-on-black images that really haunt the eye; the firework head of the chrysanthemum, the smoky petals of the tulip, the diaphanous swirls of the zantedeschia and the translucent layers of the rose – oddly reminiscent of nineteenth-century experiments in photographing movement.
The exhibition also features, tucked away behind makeshift walls, a showing of Beaumont’s film Metamorph. The film uses medical imaging technology to travel through the interior of a flower and is accompanied by Orlando Kimber’s ambient soundtrack, the music from which bleeds out into the main room of the exhibition. Kimber’s soundtrack washes away the shuffling and coughing sounds that usually accompany gallery visits and eases the brain into the kind of meditative, observant state where contemplation can flourish. The luminous images on the screen undulate sedately to their accompaniment as if we are witnessing a glorious space odyssey, but with a different soundtrack the slow roll and swirl of light could also suggest the horrific majesty of a mushroom cloud, and indeed death is present in the mind even as we look at Beaumont’s representations of living things.”
Beaumont’s white on black X-rays are ghost-like, as if she has captured the departed souls of once-living flowers, and are more captivating and meaningful than any photograph of their gaudy outer surfaces could have been. Watching them swirl on screen, we are reminded that the smallest flower in essence is a microcosm of a universe that contains both great beauty and great darkness. Perhaps these are the things that the exhibition is telling us about the “inner spirit” of living things.

Tina Varcoe

Tina is an escaped college lecturer turned jack-of-all-trades, currently scraping a living in an art shop trying to enthuse the young. In her spare time she photographs things, writes things, drinks copious amounts of tea and makes pictures with whatever materials she can get her hands on.

Volume 30 number 5, May / June 2016 p 33

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