An exploding rose by any other name

August 6, 2013

Have you seen that novel that shows a woman’s head turned away from us? Probably. After all, that image is a staple on dust jackets.

Even if you can’t tell a book by its cover, you can tell a lot about design trends. Last year, for example, the Atlantic noted the proliferation of novels with “handscript-titled book covers with simple handmade illustrations.”

This week, I thought I’d spotted a new one. While editing a review of Liane Moriarty’s “The Husband’s Secret,” I was struck by the cover’s similarity to the galley for Rachel Joyce’s upcoming “Perfect.” Both books feature a rose — an exploding rose. It’s an image at once beautiful and violent.

(Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam; July 31, 2013)
(Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam; July 31, 2013)
(Random House; Jan. 7, 2014)
(Random House; Jan. 7, 2014)

Turns out those shattering blooms are the work of an advertising photographer in Lincoln, Neb., named Don Farrall.

He wasn’t surprised when I told him his images are on the cover of two different novels. “Sometimes I see them, sometimes I don’t,” he tells me by phone from his studio. “I’m an image provider to Getty. And they have six images of my shattering roses.” He estimates his photos have been used on dozens of books. (If you know of other “shattering rose” covers, mention the titles in the Comments section below.)

To get those literally striking images, he dips a rose into liquid nitrogen, which instantly freezes the blossom. Then he slams it against a piece of 1/4-inch plate glass.

“As it hits,” he says, “a strobe flashes for 1/7,000th of a second. That’s what captures that shattering effect. I have a sound trigger that hears the frozen rose hit the glass. If the flash goes too quickly, the flower hasn’t broken apart yet. If it goes too late, you miss it. Once you have that figured out, then probably half the images look pretty good.”

“I’m not the first person to do it, but I felt like it could be done better.”

Don’t try this at home. Liquid nitrogen is about 320 degrees below zero. What it does to a rose, it could do to your hand, far less beautifully. “It’s a little dangerous,” Farrall admits. “You have to be careful. You have to have specific container to carry it in, and you pretty much have to use it all up in a day.”

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” the poet Robert Herrick wrote almost 400 years ago. “This same flower that smiles to-day/To-morrow will be dying.”

Not a problem for Farrall: “I go to the florist and beg them to give me their tired flowers because I’m just going to destroy them.”

@RonCharles

 

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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