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Kelly Merchant

Kelly Merchant

These photographs are inspired by a long-neglected 19th century fad, known as the “secret language of flowers.” It was a lover’s language in which flowers became words. Messages could be passed between shy gentlemen and hopeful maidens once they knew the secret floral code.

I first discovered this curious custom in an 1892 etiquette book that my husband had bought. It showed a list of flowers with corresponding meanings.  The idea that someone could communicate with their lover or enemy by carefully selecting and arranging flowers intrigued me. You might just want to say, “yes” with a rose or “no” with a snapdragon. Or you might want to send someone a big bouquet of crocuses, scarlet pimpernels and lancaster roses to say, “It was a dream of folly, from which I wake to weep.” I began to look for ways to transform these ideas photographically.

The photographs were shot with 4x5 and 8x10 negative film and scanned digitally. Using classic view cameras and film was imperative to achieve the timeless look and feel that the project needed. I also wanted the process of taking the images to be slow and intimate as if you were gathering and cutting flowers with the purpose of sending a message in mind.

Each of my photographs contains a secret message which is only revealed by a key to the flowers’ meaning. However, it’s not only the flowers that send a message, the subjects must embody the message as well.