In a time when much of New York life has boiled down to the basic essentials, the flowers at the corner deli serve as an unlikely muse—and a quotidian kind of housewarming.
Last June, during a rough spell in a relationship, the Brooklyn photographer Jessica Antola sought out distraction. “Photography for me, especially my personal work, is something that gives me life,” she says in a call. “I sort of holed up in my apartment for a couple days and started shooting this series.” Bodega Bouquets, she called it, after the corner-store flowers she picked up around the neighborhood in Carroll Gardens. It was the cusp of summer, and coral peonies made for plum pickings, alongside spiky thistle and lavender mums. Styled with her collection of candy-colored plastic bags, the still lifes had a hyped-up, cinematic quality, as if plucked from a Wizard of Oz remake on a shoestring budget. They managed to feel lushly extra and cheerfully cheap at the same time.
This spring, as news of the pandemic sent many of us indoors, Antola decided to return to the project. “Buying flowers at the bodega is one of New York City’s unsung small luxuries,” she writes in an accompanying text, “and it has even more significance now, when we’re all so focused on making sure we have basic necessities.” At her local Trader Joe’s, on the corner of Court and Atlantic, lines have wrapped around the block. “You’re seeing the aisles of toilet paper and cleaning supplies cleared out,” she says, “but I love that I can go a block further to this bodega, and there’s always a wonderful, big display of flowers.” It’s not just the universal satisfaction one gets while walking home with a bouquet, catching smiles from strangers. “As a Californian, who grew up with an immediate door from the kitchen to the garden, having nature in close proximity, it’s something that I really need, now more than ever.” Her outings to nearby Brooklyn Bridge Park, along tulip-lined sidewalks, are especially rewarding right now, but what sits inside—blossoming and exhaling petals onto the kitchen table—has a newfound weight. Flowers might once have signaled that company was coming over; now, they are the company.
Antola had the added complication of a move at the end of March, to a place ten blocks away. (Her trusty two bodegas remain the same.) Restarting the project in early April had the effect of a housewarming. “When I was shooting these, it was the week of Easter,” she says. “My entire apartment was filled with flowers and this amazing scent from the daffodils and hyacinth.” Now settled into a 1900s warehouse building, she is relishing the light: how it picks up the transparency and tones in her plastic bags, turning once-disposable items into sculptural materials worth saving. She jokes that the saturated images are “almost garish in color,” with an “anti-WASP-y appeal.” That’s exactly what makes them a carefree delight right now: a diorama of optimism you wish you could walk right into. – Read the full article at Vanity Fair