Six years ago, when John Arsenault first started taking photographs of flowers, they were intended as modern-day love letters to his new boyfriend. Posted on Instagram with the ambiguous title ‘For You!’, the tender images depicted roses the NYC-based, fine-art photographer had picked out for his lover – but the identity of that new beau stayed private at the beginning. Six months later he was ready to reveal the secret recipient – his partner, and now his husband, Raf.
Shortly afterwards For You! became a series for everyone, as Arsenault started tagging all the people he was thinking of while photographing the flowers. For You! Was completed in 2017, when he captured the image ‘9:15am, Haverhill, Massachusetts’ at his aunt’s home. “I took the image and knew immediately it was the final image of the series,” he says, adding that he used the same simple facts for the captions of each of his images – the time, the date, and often the location.
Inspired by the twentieth-century painter Georgia O’Keeffe, Arsenault wanted to take pictures of roses that celebrated ageing, shot with an evocative, dreamlike quality. “My intention wasn’t to show ideal beauty or perfection, but rather show beauty through the imperfections,” he says. “The natural blemishes and bruises define their beauty.
“Contrasts between new growth and dying petals give the images a tactile quality,” he continues. “There’s a darkness to these flowers even in the light of day – a mysteriousness and sensuality.”
Initially an informal Instagram project, Arsenault didn’t think of turning it into a publication until Daylight Books approached him. Now its been published by the not-for-profit organisation, coming out just in time for Valentine’s Day and intended, says the photographer, as something for everyone.
“The book is for anyone looking at it,” he says. “It’s ‘for you’! I hope viewers can sense the love that was the inspiration of this series, and find the grace and beauty in all things that are ageing.”
For You! Modern Day Love Letters by John Arsenault is published by Daylight Books, priced $45 https://daylightbooks.org/products/for-you-modern-day-love-letters