Captivating floral imagery has long-been integral to McQueens Flowers, allowing us to celebrate the artistry of our floral designers. Photographer Rowan Spray has been part of our flower family for a year now so we thought it was high-time we introduced you to the talent behind the camera! Meet Rowan...
Hi Rowan, tell us about your journey to becoming a photographer?
I came to photography fairly late. My parents gifted me a Pentax ME Super for my 21st whilst I was studying for my degree (English Lit & Cultural Criticism) but it took me a while to make the leap and pursue it as a career. After testing the water and doing a few short courses I ended up back at college at 27 doing an Art Foundation (UAL Camberwell). From there I started out assisting and was lucky enough to work with some amazing photographers, who taught me a great deal. I refined my own practise over time and eventually came to realise that I had to specialise in botanical photography - I haven’t looked back since!
Where did your love of flowers and nature come from?
I grew up in the Forest of Dean; my mum’s an artist and my dad a botanist so nature has always been an important part of my life. Playing in their rambling garden, and roaming around the woodland that bordered it (a conifer plantation that we called ‘Narnia’) was where I spent most of my formative years. It’s impossible for me to think about my childhood without recalling the tang of wood sorrel, the colour of speedwell, or the smell of gorse flowers and bracken in the sunshine - or the thrill of making Himalayan balsam seeds explode from their pods. Night walks were a particular favourite adventure in our family - and a memory of seeing the forest illuminated at night in a thunderstorm directly influenced my work. For me, nature is pure magic, and I want that sense of wonder to translate to the imagery I create.
I work a lot with studio lighting, and colour is integral to the work, which is often compositionally simple and with an emphasis on the spaces in between things. I try to bring something new to the genre of botanical art whilst still very much being influenced by its past. Since working for McQueens Flowers over the past year I’ve diversified my approach and given myself greater freedom to experiment with different techniques and included more aspects of set design, which has been really exciting. I like the flowers to dictate the style where possible - I tend to pick the flowers before I decide what sort of shot I’m going to make as they all have different personalities and suit different approaches.
Working for McQueens Flowers is an absolute dream. I feel like a kid in a sweet shop - having the privilege of being able to play with so many incredible varieties. I love trying to find new ways to photograph flowers - to see what springs to mind when I look at a particular flower, and then trying to turn that feeling into an image. Creating imagery for specific times of year has been especially fun, trying to recreate raindrops and snowstorms! I also love having the opportunity to photograph flowers en masse in the form of the glorious displays that the talented florists at McQueens make - the more I’ve learnt about floristry the greater my admiration for florists as I can see how much skill goes into each arrangement. When I arrange flowers as a photographer I only have to make them look good through the lens, but for florists it the work has to look good from all angles and nothing can be held together with sticky tape!
McQueens Flowers is such an inspiring place to be, everyone is bursting with ideas and floral passion - I spend a lot of time inside McQueens Flower School and am always amazed by the creations that the tutors and students put together day in and day out. I visit Kew Gardens as often as I can too, as this always inspires me - I like to walk around the glasshouses in particular, and always come away feeling reinvigorated (and with a lot of photos to edit). I recently found out that Marianne North, the intrepid Victorian botanical painter (whose work is housed at Kew) is a distant cousin of mine - I love her use of colour, her works are so vibrant. I’m a huge fan of Karl Blossfeldt’s architectural approach to flowers - in fact, there are so many photographers past and present whose work inspires me, so many images on Instagram that I see daily that spurs me on to keep creating - I think it’s a really exciting time for botanical photography right now.
This is such a difficult question! I think I would answer it differently every day of my life depending on my mood, or the season. Within the floristry calendar, there are definitely some showstoppers - I do love a peony or an Icelandic poppy, but then again who doesn’t? Passionflower and snake’s head fritillary both amaze me and are great fun to photograph - I love the alien beauty of passiflora and the movement of the fritillaria. I’m always learning about new varieties at McQueens Flowers so I really could pick a new favourite every day. I think if it came down to it I would say that my favourite flowers are the small posies (picked from my parents garden) that my mum still puts in my room when I go home to visit, because flowers are so emotive, and the small kindness of giving them can mean so much.
To discover more of Rowan's spell-binding work, head to her Instagram.