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2011 Grand Champion orchid: Cycnodes Taiwan Gold. (JG Bryce / Gallery 339)

Objects Of Desire

Chronicling passions that change the world, for good and ill

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We think of this as our obsession issue. Our cover story, by Joshua Hammer, delves into the life and work of the amazingly imaginative, hyper-ambitious Victorian novelist Charles Dickens and his devoted following then and now, 200 years after his birth.

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We chronicle one impact of the age-old obsession for gold, which is today causing miners in Peru’s Amazon basin to destroy rainforest at a frightening clip, all to satisfy the world’s—that includes yours and mine, by the way—seemingly bottomless craving for the metal.

And we shine an uncommon light on another, perhaps more obscure, object of desire, orchids.

It’s a safe bet you’ve never seen anything like the flowers in “The Orchid Olympics”. Not only is each bloom unique, but each photograph is too, produced with an obsessive attention to aesthetic and technical detail rivaling that of, well, an orchid breeder.

JG Bryce, the nom de photographie of a 37-year-old New Jersey native living in Taiwan, flew to Singapore this past November to photograph orchids at the World Orchid Conference. To avoid getting in the way of the weeklong show—1,000 participants, 300,000 spectators—Bryce and his assistant, Sean Lee, worked after hours. “We’d photograph from 8:30 at night straight through to 6:30 in the morning, with no break,” Bryce says. The result: some 5,000 exposures of 300 different orchids.

And what pictures! Each blossom seems to float in luminous white space—an effect he achieved by editing the digital images on a computer. “We’ve isolated the flower so people can just look right into it and not have any distractions,” he says.

The photographed blooms possess an unusual balance of both depth and focus, qualities often mutually exclusive. How’d he do it? He digitally combined multiple exposures of a bloom taken at different focal depths. “My staff of two full-time retouchers and I are doing it all manually on a computer, compressing the macro images to create a hyper-focal look and feel to the images. Hybrid flowers meet hybrid pictures!”

Out of the 50,000 orchids in the competition, how did he choose which ones to photograph?

“They had to be flowers that really moved me on a visceral level.”

Terence Monmaney is the Executive Editor.

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