The Filmmaker Turning Dying Tulips Into Dancers

Carl Kleiner uses time-lapse footage to shoot the flowers as they twist and wilt captivatingly across the screen

Photographer Carl Kleiner favours an atypical approach to flower-arranging. For his series Postures, the Swedish image-maker adds metal rods into the frame alongside tulip stems to create captivating, off-kilter still lifes in which the blooms have been slightly distorted to curve around the metal pieces. The resulting images are painterly, and full of drama; Kleiner chooses stark backgrounds of white and grey, highlighting the vivid greenery and warm-hued petals, while the shapes and tones recall the sensual floral studies of Robert Mapplethorpe in the 1980s.

In an extension of the Postures photographs, Kleiner now presents Between, a filmic iteration of the striking still lifes. Filmed in time-lapse, tulip stems contort across the screen – movements vary from slow-motion sweeps to jolting, twitching gestures – as a bass-heavy soundtrack offers rhythms for them to move with, a choice of music that lends a unignorable energy to the piece. Kleiner explains that he approached the series wanting to “explore if I could control the behaviour of the flowers; almost like a choreographer works with dancers”. And there is something human-like to the way the tulips – which the photographer chose due to their stems having “the right capacities” for the project – seem to move with the music.

It is, however, their natural wilting that Kleiner captures most captivatingly in Between. While the movements featured in the film appear languid and measured, the process of setting the scene was timely. “The arranging needs to be fast and precise so the tulips are still fresh and strong when portrayed,” he explains. “There is also the gravity factor to consider. I try to guess how the weight and balance will change as the flowers slowly dry, so that the movement happens in a way I’m hoping for.” The motion of the tulips, then, is considered and rendered to exacting standards, despite its seeming freedom. For Kleiner, it became a question of how he could manipulate nature. “There was an element of control and domination in myself I was curious to explore,” he says. “The first series of photographs they didn’t turn out like I thought they would. The flowers were more like dancers, supported and lifted by their dominators.”

Director: Carl Kleiner. Edit: Joseph Colley. Sound: Ekstra. Studio Assistant: Andrea Portoles.