Costa Rica is an ecological paradise, colored by tropical plants grown in an abundance throughout this rainforested country. The vibrant flora and fauna that thrive in this environment draw many to relocate to this region. San Jose-based photographer Irene Peña considers herself fortunate to have lived there her whole life and her latest project was inspired by the vibrant colors of the Costa Rican landscape.
Irene collaborated with Peruvian artist Angela Hurtado Pimentel, who carefully crafted the delicate and colorful paper flowers that Irene photographed for the project. The two worked together on the project over the last three years to compose a series that captures the blooms in the style of Baroque still-life paintings.
This started out as a very simple idea that I created in collaboration with Angela, but it has taken on a life of its own.
The duo originally met while working together on editorial fashion assignments as Angela is not only a working artist but also a clothing and jewelry designer. Irene had seen her paper flowers and appreciated Angela’s craftsmanship so she reached out to her to collaborate on this personal project.
When I first saw Angela’s work I was just inspired by how beautiful and detailed the flowers were and how real they looked to me.
Initially, Irene hadn’t planned to approach the project with a specific process in mind, as she was simply drawn to the beauty and life-like quality of Angela’s flowers, but as time passed she developed a layered visual style for the project and created compositions that play off of the flower’s complex details and textural elements.
At first, I thought it would be something simple and straightforward. As the project progressed, I was inspired by how beautiful and detailed the flowers were, and wanted to play with that more.
Irene enjoyed working at a slower pace with this project, taking her time to experiment and develop the project as she went along. Working out of Angela’s home, the two creatives would source flowers from Angela’s collection of work based on color, texture, and shape. Then they’d go through the process of arranging the display on a table with a cloth backdrop.
The shoots have been quite relaxing because we just get together, decide which flowers we’ll shoot, set up a table, and capture the shot.
This project gave Irene a chance to play with multiple exposures and layering, two approaches that differ from her fashion portraiture and lifestyle photography. Yet the surreal and abstract quality of the images speaks to the dreamy style that she utilizes throughout her body of work.
These images have been very different from what I usually shoot, but after this project began I’ve worked on creating photos that reflect the more romantic elements of my style.
While the process of staging the flowers was relatively simple, Irene found it difficult to calculate the correct exposure for each image. She took pains to highlight the details of the flowers without washing out the layers below.
The biggest challenge was to find the right exposure so that the image would show each layer clearly, instead of just overlapping one image on top of each other.
Irene returned to this project in 2020 to photograph Angela’s more recent creations and brought her film camera as well to take polaroids along with digital images. The photoshoots themselves take up to four hours to capture the array of details, as Irene experiments with macro shots and lighting styles.
I usually shoot several images per set-up, trying different angles with different cameras to see how the composition unfolds.
While the project has been ongoing since 2018, Irene plans to continually photograph more work as Angela crafts new and more intricate flowers. When the project concludes, Irene plans to create large-format prints to showcase in galleries and wants to sell fine art prints that can also be framed and displayed in residential homes.