Flowers of loss: The roadside tributes that provide a haunting reminder of our own mortality

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

More than three thousand people die on Britain's roads each year. Andy Barter has photographed the haunting floral tributes to them.

More than a decade after the death of a princess inspired thousands of grieving strangers to leave tributes of flowers, cards and messages outside Buckingham and Kensington Palaces, the flowery shrine has become a commonplace sight on dangerous streets. Sprays of carnations, roses, lilies and orchids seem to spring out of the prosaic municipal fixtures and fittings, like living creatures insisting on their power to transcend death.

Andy Barter is a successful commercial photographer whose work has appeared in award-winning ad campaigns (such as Heineken) and the pages of Wallpaper*, Arena and Esquire. His art work tends to push simple subjects – paint splashing from a bottle, the silhouette of a naked body – into abstract and surreal forms. Show him a floral roadside tribute, however, and he'll photograph it with loving realism, as if it's a French or Dutch still-life.

"Why floral tributes? Because I find them very moving and sad," he says. "You can be sitting in your car, totally cosseted from the world, getting frustrated with your journey, and one of these appears, to remind you that awful things happen on the road, much worse than being stuck in a traffic jam. I decided to photograph them in the most sensitive way I could, because they've been put there by people experiencing probably the worst time of their lives."

Barter doesn't reveal much about the circumstances of the deaths so eloquently memorialised in his work. He lets the tributes express their own ramshackle melancholy: the notes in children's handwriting, the details of a truncated life inside a polythene case, the spooky digital photo. The sheer variety of tributes surprised him. "Some were no more than a simple bunch of flowers, gaffer-taped to a lamppost. But one, in south London, was a really elaborate shrine: a bench, little statues, religious mementoes, poems, photos, around this tree that the car must have run into ..."

Though the dark backgrounds suggest the middle of the night, he took the pictures in late afternoon. "We used a flash, with my assistant holding a light on a boom above the flowers, to make them feel more God-lit, if that makes sense. It isolated them from their environment."

Barter cleverly contrasts the drama of the flowers and the everyday tedium of the park railings, tarpaulins, bollards and no-right-turn signs that are the language of the road. The flowers are gloriously lit, in triumphant pinks, yellows and greens. Some of the displays seem a touch too perfect, in combining dead flowers with live ones. Had he ... you know ... adjusted the displays? "No, no," says Barter, indignantly. "I didn't want to touch them. When you photograph them you feel a sense of responsibility: the last thing you want is to be seen as some kind of ghoul." He noted, however, that bereaved relatives would sometimes respond to the decay of their tribute roses by introducing new live ones. The combination, he agrees, is too symbolic: it's fitting that the French for "still life" is nature morte.

I wonder if Barter had taken pictures of the Diana flowers in 1997. "No," he says. "It's not something I'd done before. Even now, I find these tributes puzzling. If someone I'd known had died, I'm not sure I'd want to mark the spot in that way – though, to me, the mystery only makes the shrines all the more haunting and intriguing."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
The coffin containing the remains of King Richard III is carried on a procession for interrment at Leicester Cathedral on 22 March 2015 in Leicester, England.
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?