Eyestorm, London, United Kingdom

Dynastie Bleu Fonce by Lawrence Beck

Lawrence Beck Biography

New York, 1962

American photographer, Lawrence Beck is an astute observer of cultural codes and methods of scientific containment - he just happens to manifest these observations through photographs of flowers. The initial impact and beauty in his images of sunflowers, tulips, and water lilies, come from the plants themselves as Beck favors a transparent presentation. Hence, he doesn't manipulate his photographs and shoots exclusively in natural light. But aesthetic pleasure is far from being the motive of his works; their easeful gorgeousness operates as a balance to the work's conceptual component.

The majority of Beck's flower studies feature an element which, with repetition, comes to feel like a sardonic punchline; a botanist's label identifying the plant's common name and genus. While the typically central placing of this label delivers structural certainty to the image, it also functions to corral nature's wildness within a taxonomic lasso.

Since his earliest group showing in 1992, Beck has been tracing the borderline between artful cultivation and overt, culturally significant control. In doing so, he has produced a body of work which has structuralist weight and certitude, and finds echoes in a range of current art practices. Beck's work is concerned with pressing contemporary themes: exploring ecological issues, as well as the methods used by scientists to slant nature. His unshakably objective outlook and categorical bent, meanwhile, has been inspired by the influential German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, with whom he has exhibited.

In his 1999 series 'Botanical Gardens', Beck photographed carefully cultivated tulips, alluding gently to the capacity of science to change our conception of the natural. Beck's tendency is not to editorialize, but to reveal the world as it is; there is rarely a message in his cropping.

Within the fixity of his project there is room for nuance, however, and one of the delights of Beck's work is its sly, directive wit. Several photographs feature water lilies floating on a pond; behind their identification labels ('Black Beauty', 'Moonlight'), which rise like reeds from the water, one can see the unavoidably prosaic reflection of a tower block, doubling the impression that this is a man-made environment. It's a long way from Monet. Elsewhere, an image of a huge cactus features a tiny label by its base, as if to mock the perversity of attempting to tame such a powerful, self-sufficient organism.

Yet such humorous aspects do not override the essential seriousness and responsibility of Beck's work. A photograph of flowers growing beside a polished gravestone seems anomalous, until one realizes how it subtly inflects with morbidity one's reading of the identification markers on other flower photographs. Beck's subject, we realize, is the death of the natural - his work is both a clear-eyed elegy for wild nature's passing, and a fascinated gaze at what is rising in its place.


Ajapol Panich, Atlanta, USA

Leslie Linka Glatter, Los Angeles, USA

Louise Balducci, New York, USA

New School of Social Research, New York, USA


Metropolis, Lyon, France, 1999

Sonnabend Gallery, New York, USA, 1998


'Walking', Danese Gallery, New York, USA, 1999

'Lawrence Beck, Elger Esser, Hiroshi Sugimoto', Sonnabend Gallery, New York, USA, 1999

'Bernd & Hilla Becher, Lawrence Beck, Hiroshi Sugimoto', Galerie Rodolfe Janssen, Brussels, Belgium, 1999

'Works on Paper (Old Masters to Contemporary)', The Park Avenue Armory, New York, USA, 1998

'High Anxiety', Miami-Dade Community College Center Gallery/Wolfson Campus, Miami, USA, 1997


Wolin, Joseph, 'High Anxiety', Photographic Quarterly, no. 69, 1997

Hobbs Sarah, 'Black and White Unfixed', Art Papers, May-June 1997

Meyer, James, 'The Macabre Museum', frieze, Jan-Feb 1997

Cullum, Jerry, 'Trompe l'oeil triumphs', The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Charles, Eleanor, 'Westchester Guide', The New York Times, Westchester Section, 4 August 1996

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