Friday, September 27, 2013

Garden exploration

Partial view into the garden

Last weekend I took a stroll out into the back garden. I’d not done it recently because there had been quite a lot of work going on out there. Some updates to the plumbing system had been undertaken over the past few weeks, somewhat overdue, as the pipes they dug up were well over one hundred years old, in fact the house itself has a vintage of close to six hundred years. 

So, as is often the way with old houses, what they discovered when they started to dig below the surface displayed very little in common with you would be expected from above. Pipes veered off into adjoining houses, a septic tank or two were placed in spots that seemed to offer no benefit to anyone, if they were even used, although someone must have taken the effort to put them there. And couple of small streams were even discovered, which were a surprise to all.

The upshot being that a lot of digging had to be done to try and untangle what led where and, more importantly, whether it was, shall we say, supplying a need, or taking one away. This resulted in a rather chaotic garden. So now it was all over I took a wander to peruse the results.
A view of the garden, the hole in the
hedge is on the lower far left

At the end of the garden, behind a row of hedges, and unseen from the house, is a separate area, this is where the bulk of the work had been done. And to get the mini diggers in they had to tear down part of a huge hedge that had probably been there as long as the house. 

I have lived here for over two years and never given much thought to what was behind the hedge, I knew there was a track that led to a neighbour's back garden, and there was probably some vegetation, but that was about it. What I actually found when walked out was pretty much as I’d envisaged, with the addition of a small field and a healthy collection of bee hives, which I found very cheering.

But the odd thing about it was that the vista almost seemed a revelation, a completely new view, this was a landscape I was pretty familiar with, but it also seemed in a way, strange and unexplored. It was quite an odd feeling to be presented with a view from a place that had been, up until then, rarely thought about, and it made me wonder what else there was to see in this patch of land once the familiarity of the everyday had been stripped way. 

As it happened, I had just finished reading one of Robert Adams’ books – Why People Photograph, and as with much of his work, it rarely fails to provoke thoughts on how the environment is perceived through the lens of a camera, and what it means to the photographer to be ‘involved’ with the landscape around them. 

Copyright Robert Adams

One of my favourite images of Adams’ is this one of a back yard in Colorado Springs. It’s a simple composition, with its straight lines moving across the image and very few elements included, but there is something about it that conveys a sense of unusual emptiness, not just in the garden but much farther beyond, like the fence encloses a hollow space within a hollow space. If indeed the fence does enclose anything, the yawning blankness might be pouring across the mountains and into the garden itself. Which in turn makes you wonder, well, makes me wonder, among other things, about who lives there and how empty their own lives might be. 

Like so many good photos it uses the simplest of means to transmit thoughts or feelings or questions to the viewer far beyond what is actually included in the photograph. So with that in mind, purely as a means of inspiration, rather than replication, I took a journey, camera in hand, around the couple of hundred square yards or so, that comprises the garden, to see what wildly uneven results I could rustle up.

Stepping out from the hole in the hedge and looking at the newly discovered field.

This part of the garden used to be full of fruit and vegetable beds, along with rose bushes and more
gooseberry bushes than anyone could ever need. And a fair amount of bluebells in the spring. The hole
in the hedge can be seen at the top of the picture.

A couple of compost bins that won’t be getting much further use.

The above was my favourite shot of the day, it has a peaceful quality to it, like summer holidays and lazy days. But with a slight undercurrent of voyeuristic apprehension, just to throw things off a bit.

I also took a bit of inspiration from William Eggleston, insomuch as I limited myself to one shot per location, which for me was quite difficult, I'm so used to getting many, sometimes far too many, shots to try and capture the best of a scene, it really made me think about what I was doing before getting the picture.

Each of these shots, for me, displays something I was trying capture, whether it was a mood, or a play of light, or something more abstract, each one says something. Which is why I felt quite satisfied at the end of the day. I had gathered a collection of images purely for myself, that to a greater or lesser extent had fulfilled a purpose and an aspiration to look beyond what was immediately apparent, and at least try to see what could be lurking behind.

So, while the results are what they are, it's nice sometimes to feel inspired by others and to just get out there without any expectations, or rigid preconceptions of intent, or even quality. Just the act of photographing can be a satisfying way of exploring ideas and working in new ways.

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