“The blue and white print has the night-time glow of a Joseph Cornell ice-cube box or a Stan Brakhage film, the poppy glows candescent but is gone. Anna Atkins’ dirty fingernails are pressing the damp skin of the poppy into cotton wadding and blotting paper until the life has dried out of it…” Amateur botanist Anna Atkins is now widely considered to be the first woman ever to have taken a photograph. The introduction to one of her albums states that she uses the photographic medium in order to “depict with the most accuracy possible,” and so assist other scientists. Yet visual artist Annabel Dover’s investigations led her to believe that Atkins doctored and adulterated certain specimens, collaging different sections of different plants together. In the subversive, scrapbook narrative that follows both historic and imaginary characters’ stories are woven together: Henry James ‘drowns’ the clothes of a friend post-suicide; Joe Orton’s cleaning lady considers the collaged wall in his bedsit; and Anna Atkins makes the seaweed prints that will then appear in the first photographic book to be published. A complex mixture of scientific observation and tender, girlish enthusiasm Florilegia is above all else a profound meditation on memory, loss, and our relationship to images.
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