Lutfi Janania

The Honduran-born botanical artist creates objects and sculptures coined from the natural world

The Central American country of Honduras is rich in flora. So immense that it runs miles, canopied amongst mangroves, cloud forests and long lines of coast stretching across the Caribbean Sea, to the north, south and Pacific Ocean. It’s marked by high and rainy mountainous slopes of the country’s highlands, dense in oak-pine forests and delicious woodlands that spreads for valleys upon valleys. Yet despite its vast occupancy of luscious lands and lively fauna that inhabit it, Honduras has also undergone some dramatic environmentalist issues. This includes the loss of soil fertility and soil erosion, plus the depletion of forests where trees have been harvested for lumber, firewood and land. Its fragility is only increasing, but it’s also these very pines, leafs and flowers that serve as a delectable backdrop and inspiration for one particular artist working today, Lutfi Janania.

Lutfi is a Honduran botanical artist who was raised amongst the rainforest and mountains of San Pedro Sula. After emigrating to New York City, the artist was in search of a new utopia – one comparatively different to the green facades of his upbringing. And, in doing so, he started working in the fashion industry whereby he learned about construction, colour and texture; the key elements to his work now. A few design roles later, and he finally ventured out on his own as a stylist, working on editorials and employing the use of flowers within the backdrops and more subtle accents of the shoots. This is the moment when he realised he’d found his utopia, or better yet his “passion for creating fantasy through experiences that could be harnessed through botanical design,” he tells me. Naturally, this led to the launch of his own design studio, Rosalila, during which he works with botanicals to build objects, sculptures and installations.

Corallia. Shot by: Maksim Axelrod

“I live for the idea of creating a fantasy, transforming a dream into reality,” he continues, noting how this was fully harnessed once he’d moved to the USA. “I imagine it as materialising an enchanting and otherworldly environment and the creatures that live in it.” Through freshly cut tropical plants used in installations through to various assortments of trimmings and flowers, Rosalia is indeed a “fun, flirty, exotic yet very elegant” outlet for his goals and view of the world. “Think of that sensation when taking in the lively rays of sun in the tropical beaches of Honduras while holding a delicious spicy margarita in your hand.”

Lutfi’s reasons for venturing into the field of botanicals stems wholly from his past. His familial home, for instance, is located on a nature preserve, built by his grandfather amongst the wild forest. Describing the environment as being “literally Jurassic in size”, Lutfi had the entire ecosystem at his fingertips. “The trees tower over my house and provide habitat for a variety of tropical birds and giant variegated monsteras, and other plants which climb and drape all over their entirety. Coming of age in such company really shaped my understanding of colour texture and light.”

The typical compositions of a forest tend to be centralised, as the plants reach for the light in their journey to photosynthesise. Lutfi’s work, however, completely defies the laws of gravity, and of the rainforest for that matter. He relies steadily on light, weight, balance and, of course, gravity, to stretch and spread his pieces to achieve questionable angles. Reaching branches are paired with dried florals, “which seem to simultaneously bloom and weep”, while curved woods and obscure silhouettes are formed through the skill of finding stability within his striking sculpture pieces. It’s an art form in itself.

Looking inwards, and beyond the outer layer of wildness and beauty, you’ll notice how Lutfi’s structures are more than just a display of expansive nature. He picks his materials depending on the stories that they speak, especially those that tell tales of their homelands. “And because of my upbringing in the bioreserve of Honduras, my relationship and experiences with the natural world have led my inspiration to be often rooted in nature,” he explains, weaponising both permanent and sustainable objects in order to reach the studio’s environmentally conscious goals. “At Rosalila, we have a conscious practice; we don’t believe in a wasteful way of designing. We repurpose our materials, pushing their limits and boundaries.” 

Leafy Sea Dragon. Shot by: Leon Hernandez

The Leafy Sea Dragon sculpture embodies this entirely, as its’ construed of hand-preserved botanicals, manzanita wood branches and crystals. “The piece explores negative space, grandeur and fantasy with an emotional connection,” adds Lutfi, who collaborated with a family-owned fabricator in Queens to create the Italian rainforest marble base, and a Brooklyn-based metalworker in Brooklyn to weld the brand stand, before adding in the botanical work crafted by the studio. It’s an immeasurable piece with strands and spikes alluding to the ever-growing quality of nature; punches of pinks are tossed amongst the desolate, earthy tones of the environment, causing a fiery juxtaposition of fertility and sterility that plausibly takes a stand against the dwindling lands of the rainforest.

All of Lutfi’s pieces encompass a myriad of materials, be it marble, quartz, brass, manzanilla wood, curly vines and hand-preserved botanicals. And through the marriage of the man-made and natural, his pieces are greatly provocative. “My desire is to convey emotions, feelings and sensations and the dualities in them,” he shares on a final note about the work’s impact. “When compiled together, these vignettes with crooked leaves generate sorrow, curiosity, anticipation and longing. In stirring such emotions, the environment begins to take shape and the life within the work becomes evident. The dried, dehydrated material is not just preserved, it’s persevering and actively creating. What appears to be dead is very much alive.”

Portrait in front of sculpture. Shot by: Ricardo Rivera
The Mirror. Housed by: @Ashya.co. Shot by: @equatorproductions
Corallia. Shot by: Maksim Axelrod

Growing Spaces

Chris Hoare’s new book documents the rise in allotment-goers over lockdown

Tara gets stuck into gardening at St Paul’s Community Garden, with the help of her three daughters, Ashti, Arianne and Astera © Chris Hoare

The allotment garden is a place of tranquility, a blissful haven away from the home and hum of city life. Not only does this designated plot of land give its gardener access to a sustainable source of food – in turn contributing to pollination, biodiversity, local climate and soil fertility – it’s also a place of community. It brings people together and has thus been a lifeline for many over the course of the pandemic.

A year after the first lockdown was imposed, more and more are we yearning to be amongst nature. This has given way to an increased demand for allotments, turning the humble allocated space into a highly sought after commodity. It’s an interesting (although expected) transformation, considering how the allotment first made appearances during the Second World War, after the “Dig for Victory” agriculture campaign came into play and encouraged Britain to grow their own produce. And what was then a historically working class necessity soon evolved into a hobbyist pastime, with recent years breaking down these stereotypes and reaching a crescendo amongst the younger population. 

View over Royate Hill Allotments, taken in June © Chris Hoare

Although an estimated number of 300,000 allotments can be found around the UK, these supplies are in fact dwindling. A paper, published by Imperial College London researchers at the Centre for Environmental Policy, states there’s now thousands – 30,000 to be exact – of hopeful gardeners remaining on waiting lists, with a four to five year delay in receiving a plot of land. What’s more is that numerous London sites have closed in recent times, resulting in a thinning supply and cuts to the size of existing units. 

Chris Hoare, a Bristol-based photographer, assesses this increment in his new body of work and book, Growing Spaces, published by RRB PhotobooksA documentation of allotment-goers in the southwestern city, the project was commissioned by Bristol Photo Festival for its expansive exhibition set to launch this summer. “It felt important to be documenting this urge that society was having for the outdoors at such a historic moment,” he tells us. 

Abandoned shed, Bedminster © Chris Hoare

Having spent his childhood years on the edge of Bristol, Chris went on to study a BA in Photography at Falmouth University before returning to his hometown for an MA in Bristol UWE. Surprisingly, Chris’ relationship with allotments was next to nothing prior to the making of this series. Besides nurturing some “mildly successful” tomato plants in previous times, he simply wasn’t aware of this flourishing community of growers. “For the most part, they are private spaces even though everyone has a statutory right to one,” he adds. “It’s this ‘right’ that any one can own one that interested me as I made the work. I feel like they hold a special place in British society and it’s easy to overlook their significance.”

“At a time when land ownership is so unattainable for so many and urban areas become more tightly congested, they signify a little piece of paradise,” he continues. “The growing itself is only one part of the rich experience that many have when owning an allotment; it’s an important one of course, but there is so much more going on and a genuine sense of community in these spaces, which is a rare thing in this day and age.”

Mike Feingold in his greenhouse early May. Mikeis well known within the Bristol growing community, particularly because of the role he has played in promoting the philosophy of Permaculture. Alongside this he is the rep of an allotment site with an orchard containing 50 different varieties of apple, Royate Hill © Chris Hoare

Growing Spaces, in this case, lenses those who find solace in these divided and grassy perimeters. Amongst the tonal shots of flowers and crops, there’s a sense of ease and calm that protrudes throughout his photographs. Many of Chris’ subjects are those that he met fleetingly, while others he’d revisit time and time again, sometimes spending hours with each encounter. The only tricky part of it all was getting beyond the locked gates of the sites, which inadvertently maintains the assumption that allotments are indeed a privatised sphere only available for the selected few.

Chris continues to reminisce of one allotment in particular, owned by a couple who later became good friends of his. The first meeting occurred during a blissful Saturday in May, and he’d decided to venture to this “oasis in the city” – “it’s an easy place to spend time, hours drift away as afternoon quickly turns into evening, usually ending with a fire or BBQ,” he says. Having visited this plot more than the others, Chris sums up the memory with an image of Budweiser cans floating in an earthy pond, giving a new meaning as to what the allotment can provide for its gardeners. 

A pack of Budweiser keeps cool in a pond on a hot Saturday afternoon in late spring, Ashley Vale © Chris Hoare

Despite the uncertain future of the UK’s green spaces, there’s been a great resurgence in those visiting and using their allotments. But for now, this increase in demand currently outweighs availability. “I can’t see this changing for some time,” he reflects, “particularly given how this past year has altered our thinking around the importance of green spaces, thinking local and growing your own and the need for outdoor community activities.” So what will come of the humble allotment, and how will these plots affect our lands? Time can only tell, but rest assured that this is a positive moment for sustainable food cultivation.

Growing Spaces by Chris Hoare is published by RRB Photobooks and will be exhibited at Royal Fort Gardens, Bristol this summer as part of Bristol Photo Festival

Sunset roses, Speedwell © Chris Hoare
Lexi shield’s her eyes during the apple pressing at the Totterdown Community Orchard © Chris Hoare
Members of Patchwork Community Gardening Group picking raspberries during a meet up, Bedminster © Chris Hoare
Late flowers collide with autumn leaves, Thingwell Park © Chris Hoare
Joe has utilised the space on his allotment to create a shed which doubles up as an art studio. Alongside tending to his own allotment, he is also regularly on hand to help some of the elderly allotment plot holders, particularly throughout lockdown © Chris Hoare
Winter squashes, Thingwell Park © Chris Hoare
Tina throws the last of the wood onto the flames, before leaving the allotment on Bonfire Night, Thingwell Park © Chris Hoare

Meeting a Modern-Day Cowboy

Photographers Lola Paprocka and Pani Paul introduce the 80s Marlboro Man who became the subject of their latest series, shot at the Grand Canyon

As one of the faces of the iconic Marlboro adverts of the 1980s, Ed Forbis played the role of a stunt-riding, chain-smoking cowboy. He was a leading man in the Malboro Country advertising campaigns that aspired to give the filtered cigarette – at the time considered too feminine for the average American worker – a masculine edge. Nowadays, Forbis lives and works at the Grand Canyon, packing mules and caring for the horses used by the local tour guides and rangers.  

Photographers Lola Paprocka and Pani Paul met Forbis when their car broke down as they were travelling around the Grand Canyon. Waiting for it to be fixed, they spotted him outside one of the local shops. ‘We asked him if we could just take a portrait of him and two minutes later he came up to us in the shop and offered to show us around,’ explains Paprocka.

They ended up spending the day with him as he gave them a tour of the surrounding area and a rare glimpse into the life of a genuine cowboy. ‘He was excited, I think, about us taking pictures, and that we found him so interesting,’ says Paprocka. ‘He ticked all the boxes of what you’d see in the movies. He made me believe that cowboys really exist.’ 

The resulting images document Forbis at home, on the southern rim of the Canyon, where we see him living a far simpler life than the action-packed images from his days as a Marlboro Man. They show him in the great outdoors, among nature and wildlife, and against the backdrop of one of America’s most dramatic landscapes. 

The pictures also touch on themes that address man’s relationship with the natural world, while exploring a fading way of life. Once a symbol of Ronald Reagan’s America – masculinity, freedom and individualism – the rugged protagonists of the Wild West now seem forgotten by the wider world. And yet, though the shadow of ‘Marlboro Country’ permeates Paprocka and Paul’s joint series, it’s often overshadowed by the humility of Forbis himself. Looked at from a distance, Forbis becomes a nostalgic hero of the Western ideal; a rare symbol of authenticity in a post-digital world. ‘He’s just very real and pure, in an almost poetic way,’ says Paprocka.

Ed Forbis is on show at The Print Space from June 15 

The accompanying publication by Lola Paprocka & Pani Paul is published by Palm Studios