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Portfolio: Chloe Sells

A matter of life and death

Robert Epstein
Thursday 20 June 2013 16:55 BST

The town of Maun in north-western Botswana lies just south of the Okavango Delta. A vast inland body of water planted in the even vaster Kalahari, it teems with life – but the heat and humidity of the savannah also accelerate the cycle of growth towards decay and death.

It is a cycle prominent in the work of Chloe Sells. Born in Colorado, the photographer settled in Botswana with her South African husband 12 years ago, and her new project, Senescence, uses the traditional form of the still-life to explore her personal experiences of the country.

Though she shoots in colour, Sells spends 45 minutes in the darkroom with each picture, manipulating shades of cyan, magenta and yellow light to create unique, unreplicable images – reflecting her wish to capture the transience of nature.

In "Delicious Monster with Juju Hat", for example, we see her favourite plant, Monstera deliciosa, native to the rainforests of Mexico, which now resides in her own garden. The hat, meanwhile, is one worn to traditional ceremonies in Cameroon; made of feathers, it represents notions of prosperity and goodwill – though here, with the Monstera, it also speaks of the exotic come to Botswana, making us question our ideas of the indigenous and our assumptions of Africa.

"Olympia", meanwhile, makes us question where bananas themselves come from – Sells has recently become a banana farmer, but how many of us think about their origins as the fruit of a plant?

And "Only After" is a Miss Havisham feast of a shot, combining apples, grapes, spilt wine and a turquoise woodland kingfisher Sells found dead in her garden, alongside an army of ants dining on the scene, reflecting the speed with which organic material shrivels and is destroyed in her new homeland.

Senescence is showing at the Michael Hoppen Contemporary gallery, London SW3, to 31 August

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