Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Telling Garden Stories

The garden is a magnificent setting for a story. The place can be personally meaningful. The garden can be your own or one that you often visit. Or, as in any story, the place can be a temporary one for you. It can be a garden that you have admired from afar. Or, it can be a new one that sets the stage and sets a mood for a particular event or time in your life.

I call myself "a photographer who tells garden stories." In my photography, the garden provides a setting. Generally, I try to make its presence strong and to make the garden a central character in the plot rather than just a backdrop.

The garden is most easily recognized as a character in a child's portrait. A child will easily interact with their surroundings. Flowers become friends. A bench under a tree is a special hideaway. Moss on a stone is an unusual curiosity. A child in the garden evokes the magic of the place. Nature becomes a vibrant presence in the story.

The pictures I've posted above were taken to commemorate a little girl's first communion. The photo was taken in Greeley Park, a well-known local public spot in Nashua, New Hampshire. Many wedding parties and the like are photographed here. The little girl in the picture holds her "American Girl" doll. It was given to her by her grandmother. The doll's dress matches hers. They both look like beautiful princesses, refined and delicate. The flowers accentuate the sense of the feminine here. Their vibrancy is heightened by the contrast with the dress of white. The garden provides a timeless setting. The same timeless effect could have been achieved in studio, but here the garden adds an extra element. We get a feeling of time and place that a studio cannot achieve. Spring communion should be celebrated among spring flowers. Nature also helps elicit an uplifting spiritual feeling that is appropriate for this age group. There is a sense of playfulness, new beginnings, and ties to the past (the garden springs eternal.)

As an historian (my other career,) I like to think of the land as part of history. I think of all the people who once tread in the same places I do. What people once tended these gardens? What people once celebrated here? In my work as an archivist, I often came across collections of photos in the archives that showed one location at different times. I could feel the presence of generations. When telling garden stories, I want to feel that history too. I think there is a bond between history and nature that is very significant. Our land has a story to tell. We are part of it. Our ancestors were part of it and hopefully our children will be part of it too...

...I sit here writing this morning while looking out my sunroom window. Last winter I covered my gardens with straw. I swept most of it up in early spring cleaning, but remnants remain. After heavy showers over the past few days, the sun is back out now. Cardinals sit in the branches of my tall cypress and swoop down to gather my straw. Their chirping pleases me. I'm glad I didn't sweep up all the straw remnants. I can't wait until my daughter gets home from school to tell her about the cardinals building a nest out our window. Last year, squirrels built a nest in the pine next to it. Before that blue jays found our backyard trees suitable for their babies' home. And the cycle of life marches on. I'm glad to witness it in my favorite setting.

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