Wild Orchids Malta – Interview with Johan Siggesson

book about wild orchid flowers in Malta

In this third instalment of my “GardenTalk” interview series, I had a chat with nature photographer Johan Siggesson about wild orchids in Malta.

His nature photography work is very exciting, and his most recent work with wild orchids in Malta is particularly remarkable.

In this interview, we discuss how he started his nature photography journey and how he got the idea of a photography book on wild orchids in Malta.

book about wild orchid flowers in Malta
Wild orchids in Malta – Interview by loveforgardens.com

Name and Surname? 

Johan Siggesson

Explain Nature in your own words

This feels very philosophical.

I would define it as the connection between everything in this world. Not only animals and plants but also sea, soil, winds, landscapes, etc. All of it together becomes the nature that we live in.

I don’t think that the results of human activity such as roads, houses, etc, fit into the natural equation.

The question is if humans of today fit in or not. I doubt it.

photo of wild orchid flower in Malta
Wild orchids in Malta – Interview by loveforgardens.com

Tell us about your latest book, “Marvellous Malta, Where Wild Orchids Grow”

Marvellous Malta is the name of the planned series of coffee-table books about Maltese nature. “Where Wild Orchids Grow” is the first book in the series and focuses entirely on our wild orchids growing around us here in Malta. 

The book is what we call a coffee-table book which is different from a handbook or guidebook. This is not a comprehensive guide to Maltese orchids. There is already such a book and there was no need to re-invent the wheel so to speak.

This is a book that celebrates the beauty of these flowers with what I hope people think is great photography. 

photo of wild orchid flower in Malta
Wild orchids in Malta – Interview by loveforgardens.com

Where did the idea for the book come from?

When I realised that Covid was here to stay and all my jobs and travels abroad were cancelled or postponed, I decided to start a photographic project here at home. Due to various reasons, I had never done a photographic project locally before and since I was grounded, now was a perfect time.

People often ask me why I choose orchids and the simple answer is that I cannot remember exactly how I heard about our wild orchids.

I know for sure that the first one I heard about was the naked man orchid and its, to say the least, peculiar look inspired me to do further research on the subject.

Traditionally, orchids have sort of a bit of a mysterious aura surrounding them and I guess discovering that we have wild species growing in Malta inspired me to dig deeper.  

Eventually, I decided that I would do a project on orchids. It was never meant to become a book, let alone the first book in a series of books, but I got a bit obsessive and went out many times every week to photograph these flowers and eventually I had so much material that the thought of a book started to form. And then later I decided to start a series of books about Maltese nature.

There was a big craze back in the English Victorian era which is called “Orchidelirium” when wealthy people went mad for orchids. Growing, collecting, and discovering new species were high on the agenda. Very interesting. 

photo of wild orchid flower in Malta
Wild orchids in Malta – Interview by loveforgardens.com

Can you provide us with your favourite excerpt of the book?

The book doesn’t have much text due to its nature as a coffee-table book. But it does have several pages with text, and it also has a few poems.

What do you hope readers will take away from “Marvellous Malta, Where Wild Orchids Grow”?

Lately, there are a lot of negative news about the Maltese countryside and rightly so. A lot of things need to change if we want to retain anything for the next generation. We hear about birds being blasted out of the sky, trees being uprooted in the name of development and properties being built in ODZ areas.

Of course, these things need to be highlighted but sometimes we also need to hear or see something positive to inspire us to protect what we have left. I hope the book inspires people to go out and look for these little beauties in the countryside, and when you learn to appreciate something I think you are more prone to protect it.

Some of them are not hard to find at all whilst others are next to impossible to find. 

photo of wild orchid flower in Malta
Wild orchids in Malta – Interview by loveforgardens.com

What is so special about this book?

It is the only one of its kind in Malta. We have many excellent handbooks about Maltese trees, insects, flowers, birds, etc which is wonderful, but we don’t have something that concentrates only on showing how beautiful things are.

I want the book to be sort of a visual journey.

There is no such book on Maltese orchids and to be honest, I don’t think there are any similar books about anything concerning Maltese nature.

We have plenty of coffee-table books about Mdina, Valletta etc but nothing about nature.

Who do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?

I think that anyone that loves nature and natural beauty could buy this book. This is an artistic book that fits a wide audience. 

photo of wild orchid flower in Malta
Wild orchids in Malta – Interview by loveforgardens.com

When did the passion for nature photography start?

My passion for nature has always been there since I was a young boy growing up in Sweden. My formal education is in graphic design. Join the two and you get a nature photographer.

I bought my first real camera in 2012 and from there on I never looked back.

My first memory of nature photography was when I found a book with photos and information about various animals on my grandmother’s bookshelf when I was very young. I remember how mesmerised I was about this book flipping through it on her living room floor. 

How did your background as a nature photographer influence your writing process for this book?

There isn’t much text at all in this book. It is all about showing the beauty of these flowers. 

photo of wild orchid flower in Malta
Wild orchids in Malta – Interview by loveforgardens.com

What are the tools for nature photography?

Nature photography could be anything from taking snapshots with your mobile of insects in a garden somewhere to using extreme camera equipment on the South Pole.

We all must start somewhere though and depending on budget and ambition we all have different equipment.

However, it is not as much about the tools as it is about vision and ideas. I have personally taken award-winning photographs with an entry-level digital camera. 

Many people say: “Oh, you must have a really good camera to take photos like that”.

It would be like saying to an artist that his brushes must be of high quality so that he can paint beautiful paintings. 

It is not about the gear at all. 

Many photographers are stuck in technicalities such as resolution and megapixels, etc. We often forget that the most crucial part of an image is not how sharp it is, with what camera you took the image or how many megapixels it has.

The important part of an image is that it stops you in your tracks and hopefully evoke some emotion or make you wonder about something. Maybe remember your childhood for some reason or whatever it might be.

Some images have a stronger message than others and different images almost always have a different impact on different people. 

Is there a question that you wish people would ask you more often about your work?

Avoid the question “Which camera are you using?” 

I don’t know if I have a specific question that I would like people to ask, but sometimes it is nice to discuss an image and see how it affects us differently from one person to another. 

photo of wild orchid flower in Malta
Wild orchids in Malta – Interview by loveforgardens.com

What did you find most challenging about completing this book?

It is generally accepted that we have 37 different species of orchids in Malta, but many of them are extremely rare or even presumed extinct. For me to find all the species or even half of them was out of the question from the start.

It is reasonable to expect to come across about one-third of the species in a reasonable time frame. This book is all about shapes, forms, light and patterns so one of the main challenges with the photography was to get a wide variety of images from the species of orchids that I was likely to encounter.

Where do you go when searching for information or when you have a question?

I normally search the internet or ask people that know better than myself.

I am not a botanist or a scientist. I am a photographer, so there are plenty of people around that know more about orchids than I do.

Hopefully, I know a little bit more about photography than they do 🙂

book about wild orchid flowers in Malta
Wild orchids in Malta – Interview by loveforgardens.com

Where can people contact you or follow your journey?

The book series has its website, Facebook, and Instagram:

My channels are:

Where can people purchase the book?

The book can be purchased directly from marvellousmalta.com or through me. At the moment, the book is not in any bookstores.

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