Late bloomers: Mark Lyndersay’s latest portraits

As he turns 50, photographer Mark Lyndersay sees dying flowers as a metaphor for ageing. James Fuller talks to him about his morbid art

Mark LyndersayThunbergia. Photograph by Mark LyndersayWild Heliconia. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay

Trinidadian photographer and journalist Mark Lyndersay says his recent 50th birthday is, in part, the inspiration behind his latest photographic project.

La Fleur Morte, A Meditation on Ageing, is a collection of photographs of flowers taken not in full bloom, but rather as they age, wither and die.

“We have a jasmine tree in our yard and many flowers fall when it blossoms,” says Lyndersay, who lives in St James, Port of Spain. “I was clearing up one day and I began looking at them in more detail and found them to be very interesting. I brought one inside, laid it down and watched it die.

“What I realised was that there is a point with all of these flowers at which they develop a very different character. I found parallels with the human ageing process and wanted to explore that further.”

Lyndersay, who writes a long-standing weekly technology column, BitDepth, for the Trinidad Guardian, says this floral life cycle can be used as a broad metaphor for the larger arc of human ageing.

“I’m finding there’s a kind of afterglow, a blush that comes with the passage of time, and with all of them there’s a point at which they become attractive in a very different kind of way. I have a lot of friends who are older than me and I think there are parallels with them as well. They have become something very different to what they were 10 or 15 years ago, but have a different kind of attractiveness and interest about them because of that.”

The flowers used have come from a variety of locations, including his mother’s garden in Stone Street, Port of Spain.

“What I have been trying to do is to go for flowers which are identifiably local, native to Trinidad and Tobago, but also to steer away from ones which are traditionally seen as beautiful. I want to use those which are more commonplace, flowers you would pass by every day without noticing them too much.”

He’s done four “portraits” so far, including jasmine and golden chalice, and there will be another 10 in the series.

“I’m going to photograph five or six more and then decide where I’m going to go with it.”

Two La Fleur Morte images were selected by the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago for its 2007 exhibition, and Lyndersay has also entered two international photographic contests with pictures from the series.

Lyndersay began his journalistic career nearly 30 years ago with stints at the Sunday Punch and the Trinidad Express. His varied working life has also included long associations with the theatre (he did theatrical photography from 1979–91) and Trinidad Carnival.

“I have been photographing Carnival for 25 years,” he says. “I keep going back every year, usually Dimanche Gras and Carnival Tuesday, and it’s become a bit of a ritual for me.”

His involvement with Carnival, he says, was influenced by the work of veteran photographer Noel Norton. A Carnival photo essay by Lyndersay appeared in Caribbean Beat last year, and this year he did a photo-essay series for the Guardian called Making Mas (a pun on the Trinidadian expression for both producing Carnival costumes and for wearing them in the streets). The series went behind the scenes at the mas camps—where costumes are built—to shed light on the extraordinary efforts that people put into bringing Carnival to the streets of Trinidad and Tobago.

La Fleur Morte began while Lyndersay was taking a hiatus from another ongoing photo-essay series, Local Lives, which documents the experiences of everyday people involved in events such as Hosay, Divali and Carnival.

“I started Local Lives in mid-2006, but took a break in February 2007 because the last two instalments had consumed two months of my life.”

The two projects are so different that Lyndersay says it has made for a refreshing departure.

“Local Lives is much broader and expansive and often involves a lot of geography as well. La Fleur Morte is very different, in that you’re working in a constrained space and a specific sort of isolation.

“Also, Local Lives is a documentary series where I have no control at all, I am a witness interjecting a photograph at carefully selected points; there is no managing process at all, whereas in this case I manage and control everything down to the finest detail. The thought process, the planning process, the photographic process, it’s pretty much at the other end of the spectrum. I shoot almost all of the pictures with just one light and reflectors and keep them on a white background, because I like the isolation of the subject. Most of the time you’re shooting a space of about three inches square with a macro lens. You need patience because you’re dealing with fine detail all the time.”

The only project he says is comparable to La Fleur Morte is one he undertook for the Baggasse Company’s production of Les Liaisons Dangéreuses in the early 1980s.

“I did the photography for them, which included the lobby photographs, and I began experimenting with these. Instead of the usual mug shots of the cast, I asked them to bring in personal items which represented them and how they thought about themselves. I did some still-lifes with those and it worked really well.

“It reminded me of a Neil Diamond quote: ‘There’s room for things to be more than they appear to be.’”

La Fleur Morte is also in keeping with a career standpoint Lyndersay has developed since leaving corporate life two years ago (he had spent eight years in management positions at the Guardian and Petrotrin) to set up his own company, Lyndersay Digital.

“I told myself that I will find a balance between things that make money and things that make meaning. This is one that makes meaning.”