Botanical beauty

Kate Patterson’s photography exhibition reveals the tiniest details.


Kate Patterson gives us the opposite of a bird’s-eye view in her rich botanical photographs. She brings us up close and personal. Seen together, the works are a wash of colors and textures. But look carefully, and you will see that she skillfully integrates blurred parts in each composition, giving the pieces a painterly feel. This blurring technique, which in photography is called bokeh, a Japanese term defined as the way a lens renders out-of-focus points of light.

“This microscopic view into local flora reveals minute details that abound with texture, color, and shape,” Patterson said. “Leaning into the exploration of what this miniature world might look like to my friend the ant, I adjusted the camera’s lens to limit the depth of field, went in as close as I could get, and composed the composition so that the majority of the picture is out of focus.”

One of the inspirations for this series came from Patterson’s experience with teens. This summer she taught photography at Featherstone, and brought in her gear, a professional Nikon camera and a macro lens. “The kids just went bananas,” she said. “They all wanted to do it every day. It was exciting, and I felt their excitement. The experience reawakened the allure of this lens, which I have owned for 15 to 20 years. Ultimately, the kids were so jazzed, it inspired me to pursue this show.”

Another inspiration was her taking a close look at what grows on the Vineyard. Patterson went to Polly Hill Arboretum multiple times to see what thrives here. “I was touched by all the work they’ve done, the labeling to make it super-clear what you are looking at and learning about,” the photographer said. At the same time, having bought a house here last September, Patterson was picking out plants to put in her yard. So it all came together.

“I put together a body of work with this technique where the aperture is wide open and there’s no depth of field,” she said. This flattening of the composition makes the contrast between what’s in and out of focus create a sensuous vision of shape and color. The images range from portraits of single botanicals to snippets of larger arrays, which create splendid design-like patterns.

Patterson’s use of bokeh builds rich photographs that we experience on a visceral, emotional level. She says, “The bold colors, pleasing shapes, and enchanting details of the flowers in this series fill one with joy and happiness. The focus of each offers fascinating, minute details of the plant, while the out-of-focus areas provide an expanse of relaxed, impressionistic translation of light and color.”

Patterson says photography is a journey. “Something catches my eye and I run with it, observing the subject, changing exposure, trying another angle, all the while looking for an image that captures what I saw or thought I saw. Sometimes the process is quick, as in capturing a moment in time, and sometimes it’s slow as in, Come back tomorrow.”

Patterson says whether she looks at the whole exhibit or an individual image, they all make her feel good: “Like nature and the world are basically good, and all these great things are growing here. I hope people enjoy it.”

“Bokeh Botanicals” runs through Nov. 7 at the Featherstone for the Arts Feldman Family Artspace at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, 79 Beach Road, Vineyard Haven. You can visit during movie times. Doors open 30 minutes before each show. See for more details.