When Bert GF Shankman retired as a computer systems analyst in 1995, the next stage of his life was a blank canvas. He joined a few clubs to get out of the house. One was a photo club, though Shankman wasn’t even an amateur photographer — on family vacations it was his wife, Eva, who picked up the camera. In the first year with the photo club, he tried landscapes, street photography, but ultimately he was one more retiree looking through the long lens of life and not content with what he saw. Then one day he found himself in an arboretum and photographed flowers.
Something profound began to blossom. In Shankman’s photographs, flowers turn into a butterfly. The crest of a wave. Fireworks. After he takes his initial images, he reimagines them through Photoshop. And like a determined gardener, he enjoys the challenge of taking the weakest image and working on it. “It’s a matter of resurrecting,” he says.
Not everyone understands his methods. “I had some lady comment to me — she said, ‘Those flowers don’t grow in that color.’ ” That memory amuses him. “I’m not documenting flowers,” he says. “I’m expressing my emotions.”
These days, nearly everything Shankman, 75, photographs comes from his back yard. He plans ahead by looking through seed catalogues of flowers “based upon what kinds of compositions I’m thinking of doing the following summer.” Even as he’s planting the seeds, watering the flowers, waiting for them to spring from the ground, he is wondering what aesthetic possibilities they will produce.
The nurturing of beauty. The growth of an artist.