Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a cherished resource for the city of Pittsburgh and especially for Aaronel when she was actively photographing. From the late 1990’s through 2010, Aaronel visited Phipps numerous times to photograph the iconic 1893 Victorian structure and the plants housed inside.
In 2003 Phipps announced an ambitious expansion project consisting of a sustainable Welcome Center, production houses and a remarkable Tropical Forest. While work was occurring, Aaronel was granted access to the construction site, not to photographically document the development, but to visually capture her unique interpretation and vision of the progress.
When the production houses were completed, Aaronel went with her cameras to explore these areas not open to the public. Her distinctive vision really shines here as she captures light and shadow inter-playing with the structure while offering a behind the scenes look at where the work takes place.
The Tropical Forest, finished in 2006 and filled with specimens from Thailand, offered a new visual experience to Aaronel. As you’ll see the Thailand theme is really not apparent in her images as she’s mainly concerned with light and form.
In addition to the selected theme for the Tropical Forrest, which rotates every three years, Phipps offers seasonal exhibits for the holidays, spring, summer and fall. In 2007, an extraordinary collaboration took place with glass artist Dale Chihuly. Hand blown glass shapes were created and united with the plants throughout the Conservatory. This offered an amazing opportunity for Aaronel using infrared film and digital infrared capture to produce distinctive images in her unique style.
Two years later, Phipps collaborated with Hans Godo Frabel, another glass artist, and offered to the public an exhibition called Gardens and Glass. Aaronel of course returned to photograph this exhibition as well. At this time she was experimenting with a Nikon D70 which produced an entirely different color shift.
For sure Aaronel worked with the various displays and exhibitions that Phipps offered, using the elements presented to create images emphasizing both the theme and the environment. However no matter what special display was being presented, Aaronel would always gravitate to the plants, “…to the translucency of the light through the leaves”, and “…to the contrast of the natural forms with the structure of the building”.
On September 18, 2006, Aaronel held an exhibition of her Phipps photographs in the newly opened Welcome Center. Below are photographs taken at the opening celebration and those who know Aaronel will recognize many familiar faces.