Delicate, yet dramatic, exquisitely coloured photographs

Feature from Folio Magazine - April 2002

Heavy Petal

Barbara Manzi-Fe’s photos of flowers make you feel as if summer is already here. Folio looks through the lens of this local artist.

A keen gardener, as well as a photographer, Barbara Manzi-Fe doesn’t just see all that hard work that needs to be done in the garden.  Using natural lighting and differential focusing, with a high-quality close-up lens, her images evoke the magical, fresh vibrancy of each individual flower, each of her portraits the result of careful studied observation.

Her photographs of flowers are presented as large-scale prints, the delicate, yet dramatic, exquisitely coloured pictures are taken in the gardens of England - more often than not her own - and in the wild meadows of the Alps. A variety of forms appear, some with an iridescent and delicate tissue-paper like quality; others of a more fiery trumpet-like boldness. And what’s common to them all are the gorgeous colours and creativity of nature. In each flower portrait she instinctively captures the essence of that particular bloom.

There’s no artificial lighting going on here, no airbrushing and no cropping.  “The large-scale, many-times-magnified sensuous flower photos reveal previously unseen textures, forms and colour,” says Barbara, who was born in Switzerland in 1943. “Images we carry in our minds long after we have seen the photographs - images we want to live with.”

It all started, as the best things do, with a Kodak box camera, given to her by an aunt. A neighbour helped her to get to grips with the photographic darkroom, and she went on to study photography in Zurich and London. As a student, she captured, in black and white, the slums that were being demolished in London’s Bethnal Green, as the residents were re-housed in the new town of Basildon in Essex. After a stint as a fashion photographer in Zurich, she returned to England to lecture in photography at Bath Academy of Art, as well as pursuing her own photographic work on a freelance basis.

An interest in psychology drove Barbara to train to work as a psychotherapist, a career that she pursued for 17 years. Photography, of course, remained a hobby, and she also found time to move to Gloucestershire in 1985, meet her husband David, and turn their cottage, their sheltered, fertile garden  and the few acres that came with the property into a home for an Arab horse, called Ibn Taqah, and a white goat. Not to mention a Dexter cow and calf.

And now Barbara has turned towards photography once again. Artist Judy Swaffin and sculptor Jamie Vans invited her to exhibit as part of the Stroud Open Studios in 2001, in a former farm building cleverly transformed into a gallery with the help of a lick of white paint. Barbara’s work has been compared to Georgia O’Keefe, and “wonderfully sensitive” , “brilliant” and “inspirational” were among the comments from visitors to her ‘ Magic in Nature’ exhibition, which led to more invitations to show her work at the Brewery Arts Centre in Cirencester, the Riverstation restaurant in Bristol and Cheltenham hospital. Future plans include more venues in Gloucestershire later this year and Sotheby’s in Zurich from January 2003.

Barbara still finds the time to take in a bit of long-distance endurance riding, though. And she’s learning to belly dance, too - good for her back, apparently. Barbara’s garden is, as you might expect, full of picture-friendly flowers such as tree-poppies, dahlias, peonies, hellebores and clematis.

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