Tattoos, Beards and Flowers
Brock Elbank, the person, is well-inked of the flesh, rides a Triumph motorcycle and fifty percent of the time he sports what can only be called a more than ample amount of facial hair. He’s a somewhat tough character, and enjoys taking photos of what can be considered raw, imperfect and masculine subjects. Oh yes, and flowers. Soft, pink, ethereal, and beautifully feminine flowers. Home grown by him no less! Why? Well – the answer to that is irrelevant. The stereotype of a tough man need not be analogous to flower adoration, nor mutually exclusive affairs.
Before I get underway with the rest of this story – I want you to cast your mind back to your Sesame Street days and get this tune in your head:
One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,|
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?
Okay, got it? Good. Because every time I think about this piece this comes to mind. It is not in any way pertinent to the tale – though I feel it is important if I’m writing with this song in my head, you should well be reading to the same tune. Saying that, this little ditty does actually provide a not-irrelevant entrée to the work of English photographer Brock Elbank.
Brock is a photographer whose career spans several decades in the realms of high fashion and advertising in the UK, USA and Australia. To this end, photographing models for a living brought him into contact with The Beautiful People on a daily basis, and possibly he became a bit immune to such charms.
On the flip-side Brock’s personal photography projects have a unique appeal, and are unified by their grittiness: he clearly covets good body art, facial hair, freckles and scars – and portrays an honest and somewhat confronting view of faces and their beautiful imperfections. It feels masculine. Of this he says,
I think and feel that the people I choose to photograph all have great character, or something special about the way they look. Portraiture is my first love, though not the ‘top models’ that once graced the studio where I worked, but real people, whose faces often tell you a story about their life. I’m not a fan of retouching people’s imperfections out of my images; often they add something to the photograph. Scars and laughter lines all make the image more interesting.
Tattooist Miles has been one of Brock’s subjects for twenty years, and a somewhat muse (and incidentally did his first tattoo, and many since). Miles has been an enduring subject for Brock because Miles has evolved and changed his non-conventional look more often than most people. “He is covered in tattoos, but with age has got better and better, turning into a silver fox – he is great matter for me. My tattoo photography is not really for the sake of tattoos – but more incidentally that my subjects of interest just often have them”.
On the matter of his hirsute love, Brock states that “the ‘beard series’ was started 8 years ago, when a couple of friends had grown rather impressive ones, so I shot their portraits. Some 208 portraits later I’d probably say it became a little bit of an obsession for a while, but after I exhibited ‘Facial’ nearly three years ago, I felt closer”.
This all obviously raises lofty discussions of beauty, and art, and eyes and beholders – and the existential debate that all this engenders. But in Brock’s mind his objectives are clear. “What I do try to achieve with my personal work, whether it’s portraits or still life is to show an authentic image. I think with day-to day work your clients always have the final say and often your hands are tied. But with personal work, you are the client, so anything goes”.
Interestingly, and perhaps ostensibly surprising – Brock also has an extensive catalogue of flower portraiture in all its delicate, beautiful glory. When asked what it is about flowers that made him feel they had a place amongst the tats and beards, Brock was adamant that it all comes down to gardening. He says,
I’ve always loved gardening; I am from a gardening family. I’ve always escaped for a few hours into my garden and love watching my efforts grow during the seasons. When my mother passed away my in-laws bought me two rosebushes in her memory. They flourished, so we had a constant crop of roses in the garden and house. On one anniversary I picked some particularly beautiful blooms and decided to photograph them, which was then followed up by my peony series, based on a plant gifted by my wife. All my bloom subjects are home grown, which is important.
I asked Brock if his relationship with plants was driven by his desire to capture them in photography, or simply for the love of plants – to which he replied “Both. I have worked on quite a few series of flowers now, and obviously you get those ‘special’ blooms that just need to be photographed. I enjoy all gardening though- plants, trees, vegetables, and flowers. It represents ‘me time’ in the garden, where I try and make something beautiful and switch off for a few hours. I remember back to when I was about four or five, when ‘Cheese plants’ (Monstera) were all the rage in the UK. My mother had a beautiful plant, which she ended up having to donate to the local hairdressing salon, due to it outgrowing our living room! Then there was my Uncle Ivor, who was a keen gardener with a few acres, including an orchard, an allotment, and a large greenhouse where strawberries and tomatoes grew in abundance – along with his shed, where he had his kettle for tea. Lovely memories, formative memories – where I was bitten by the gardening bug I suppose”.