Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

Michelle Leftheris – Woman’s Own Book of Houseplants

Jul 15, 2015 - Jeremy August Haik

Today I'm bringing you Woman’s Own Book of Houseplants, a recent project by NY artist Michelle Leftheris. In her part-photograph, part-collage images, she combines and flattens freshly harvested plant material with images taken from a 1969 book presumably published for housewives of the era. These images, made with the clarity of a flatbed scanner, vibrate somewhere between living material and artificial images, and between delicate softness and mechanical flatness. Taking cues from the Japanese Oshibana process of pressing flowers into illustrative images, Michelle extends this technique into the two-dimensional space of the scanner. Woman’s Own Book of Houseplants, like much of Michelle's work, contains a touch of wry humor folded into its smartly subversive performance. Here's Michelle describing her process of reclaiming and reanimating this subject matter: This series began when an old studio mate of mine left behind a book titled Woman’s Own Book of Houseplants from 1969.  Written by the very authoritative looking William Davidson, it is features an abundance of plant photographs along with tips and instructions for care.  My interest in the book was piqued both from and aesthetic and conceptual standpoint. Formally, the depiction of plants in the images were stiff and lifeless, one would have difficulty distinguishing if the plants were artificial or real. Conceptually, the title of the book, with all of its condescending charm, left me wondering what was it about this book that made it a woman’s own. Having decided that aside from being written in a simple, fairly non-scientific manner, the book is really quite general and I could make no strong connections between it and myself or any other woman I have known. I set out to make an improved version of this book – remaking the images in it with specific women I have known in mind. The act of invigorating these staid, largely black-and-white images is more than just a strongly conceptual exercise. There's a distinct and fundamental personal component for Michelle in the creation of this work, as she describes it: Each piece is named after a woman I have known throughout my life. Along with the name, I’ve also written a one sentence impression or memory I have of a woman with the same name. The act of naming these pieces transfers a sense of ownership to the viewer. Kind of like buying a keychain with your name on it in some town you visited on vacation when you were a kid. It’s a arbitrary act of ownership and identification yet we all delight in finding something that belongs to us. On the whole, Michelle's work demonstrates a similar focus on the material influence of photography: "I’m drawn to the ways that images function as on acting force on the physical world. All of my work focuses the exchange of objects and images in the way that they can become stand-ins for the corporeal and intangible." Michelle's website can be found here