Telling the Story of a Garden
Every garden has a story to tell, and every time you enter that garden with a blank digital card in your camera you have an opportunity to tell a beautiful, compelling story. It will not be the definitive statement about that garden; no such thing exists because nature is, by its essence, always changing and evolving. But it is your story of that garden on that day.
And the garden you experience may be very different from the impression it makes on others. I’ve even been complimented for having created beautiful images of gardens that the designers of those gardens didn’t recognize as their own. I’ve accepted these compliments with a caveat. While to some degree you are reporting on a specific place, the reporting must be invested with personal vision; you can’t just take pretty pictures without putting them in context.
Sometimes you need to create the vision. I’ve shown up on many assignments where the garden I saw in the scouting images looks nothing like the disappointing swath in front of me; the roses that bloomed so prolifically last season were decimated by a late winter storm, the lily border was torn up by insatiable deer, or the clematis arbor was just a ragged tangle of blossomless twine.
These changes in the garden are the rule. There is nothing static or certain. It is your job to be as creatively nimble as possible and to be resourceful, no matter what shape your subject is in. The shots you ultimately find may not present themselves to you right away. Be patient. You may have to spend some time walking through the garden without even bringing a camera to your eye, only taking the space in with all of your senses. Allow your deeper creative consciousness to start flowing, to figure it out for you. You may fall for the symmetry of hedging and trees or the arbitrary looseness of a wildflower meadow. You may spend your time chasing butterflies and bees as they flit from one blossom to the next. But the story you find must be your own. You are a visual artist, not a stenographer. And gardens are too multisensual to presume they can be captured objectively.
The best photographs in the garden hope to address the beautiful on all counts, as well as all the intangible revelations of color and form. The challenge is to expose the familiar for the first time, to look freshly and with keen interest on the complex natural world through your camera’s lens. Remember that you are always making self-portraits to some degree. Your best work is an act of self-evocation.