The book "Greenhouses - Cathedrals for Plans" by photographer Werner Pawlok is published this week by teNeues Verlag. The book is like a journey through the botanical gardens of the last centuries and a photographic homage to the tropical greenhouses within Europe. Pawlok photographs the exotic plants in a colourfully expressive manner and lets the viewer participate in his explorations. His pictures are fascinating not only because of the power of colour, but also because they capture breathtaking plays of colour.
Through the artistic staging, the plants shine in a special light and create the illusion of an immediate spectacle. When looking at the gardens and greenhouses, the scent of warm earth and the breathing of the plants can almost be felt. From the Palm House at the Botanical Gardens in Copenhagen to Kew Gardens in London and the Great Palm House at Schönbrunn - Pawlok captures these magical places in a unique way and lets us participate in an expedition into the heart of the 19th century.
Werner Pawlok was born in Stuttgart and founded the first photo gallery in southern Germany in 1980. In the late 1980s, his work gained wide recognition through his participation in group exhibitions of works by Warhol, Richter, Mapplethorpe and Polke. His well-known works include his 50 x 60 cm Polaroids as well as his unconventional fashion and celebrity photographs of John Malkovich, Dennis Hopper or Juliette Binoche.
Interview with the man behind the book
Just in time for the release date of "Greenhouses - Cathedrals for Plans", teNeues asked the photographer and author personal questions to delve even deeper into the green world of exotic plants. Werner Pawlok talks about early childhood memories, magical moments and decelerating tips for the next visit to the greenhouse:
Mr Pawlok, in the foreword to your book "Greenhouses" you talk about your first, very private memories of a "cathedral for plants". Has this topic always accompanied you since childhood or was there an initial spark in adulthood that brought you back into contact with the large greenhouses?
Often childhood experiences that don't always come to the surface, but were always there, shape you. And it only takes a small push to generate an idea for a project. As described in the book, as a child I often went with my father to the Wilhelma in Stuttgart and was very impressed by the cast iron greenhouses. With their diverse colours, shapes and scents the plants spread an exotic atmosphere that obviously left its mark on me. The idea to go in search of traces with my camera came only a few years ago, when I happened to be in the Palmengarten in Frankfurt and realised that this had potential for a series.
The subject of greenhouses has several aspects: Architecture and botany are the obvious ones. But greenhouses - like zoos - also have the additional aspect of preserving species and sensitising people to the vulnerability of nature through fascination for what they see. Which aspect do you find most exciting? Or is it even the combination of all of them?
Basically, I was immensely impressed by the effort that has to be put into the greenhouses. Each plant needs its own climate and, for example, the soil procurement has to suit it. For the gardeners each plant has a soul and you feel this when you enter the room.
The greenhouse at Stuttgart's Wilhelma has a special meaning for you. Have you had any "magic moments" on your travels to the other greenhouses that you would like to share with our readers?
A few years ago, during a stay in Cornwall, I visited the Eden Project. It was built in 2001 as part of the Millennium Projects of Great Britain. The Eden Project, named after the biblical Garden of Paradise, aims to protect
rare plants from becoming extinct and to inform visitors about sustainability. The size of the domes is unbelievable. At the time, I had the opportunity to visit the interior with a small group to stay inside until late at night. It had a very mystical feel for me. An eerie calm, coupled with the idea that at some point plants can only exist in this way. I was torn by this vision.
The Corona pandemic has changed many cultural institutions and even led to the closure of many places worth seeing. Are there any gardens and greenhouses that you visited during your travels that have suffered the consequences of the crises of recent years? Are there projects that should be supported to help rebuild or preserve them?
Yes, unfortunately some greenhouses are also suffering from the aftermath of the pandemic. Since no visits were possible and thus no income could be generated, many gardeners have been dismissed and thus the plant world has been left to its own devices. However, there were also highlights, such as in the Butterfly House in the Hofburg in Vienna. Irrespective of restricted working and visiting hours, the grounds were extensively tended every day.
The original Crystal Palace in London would certainly be worth a trip back in time. Are there other "cathedrals for plants" that you would still like to visit?
Of course! There are still many in the world that I would like to visit. For example, the botanical garden in Rio de Janeiro, the Montreal Botanical Garden or the Singapore Botanic Garden....
You must have experienced the greenhouses differently for the work on the photographs than the normal visitor does. What advice can you give visitors to greenhouses to make the on-site experience more intense - perhaps more decelerating?
Pause and enjoy in peace!
"Greenhouses - Cathedrals for Plans" is released on May 3rd 2023 on the teNeues website and in German bookshops.
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