Matthew M. Kaelin cultivates the beautiful, fatal subjects of his photographs in his Long Island home. He then frames each rosy jaw of a Venus flytrap, gaping leaf of a pitcher plant, and spiky tentacle of king sundew in macro photographs that highlight the deadly nature of these carnivorous plants.
“This is meant to bring the observer into the world of the plants from the viewpoint of their prey and to create a window into a dimension of bizarre creatures and alien landscapes,” Kaelin told Hyperallergic. Over 140 of his photographs have been collected and published in The Sinister Beauty of Carnivorous Plants, released earlier this year by Schiffer.
Kaelin had been interested in the plants, which feed on insects and other animals, since he was young, but it was only in 2003 that he began to actively grow and propagate them. He’s created award-winning horticultural displays and even published two Nepenthes (pitcher plant) cultivars, meaning a plant spawned through careful human selection. One of these — the Nepenthes ‘H.R. Giger’ — is seen in the book as a creature with strange, seductive curves not unlike those of a Giger xenomorph from the Alien movies. While the fly that falls on the curling leaf of Drosera capensis or the insect that tumbles into the dark red well of Cephalotus follicularis doesn’t know its error until it’s too late, the photographs give the viewer hints of the plants’ deadly attraction.
“As an artist, at first the project with these plants was completely separate,” Kaelin explained. “I had been working on an unrelated painting series for a number of years that was gaining in momentum and sophistication. During this time, and after a number of years of cultivating carnivorous plants at home and casually photographing them, I eventually set forth to create a personal glimpse into their bizarre world.”
Along with his deadly garden, Kaelin started exploring and photographing the wild carnivorous plants of Long Island in 2012. There are actually varieties of carnivorous plants on every continent but Antarctica, and conservation is a concern. In the text by Kaelin that accompanies the photographs in The Sinister Beauty, he highlights which of the specimens are endangered in the wild. All of this is aimed at, as he puts it, “truly providing the opportunity for exploring education and conservation in the spirit of creating a convergence between the disciplines of fine art and natural history, with a positive impact on the subject that I love so dearly.”