Since the invention of the medium, photographers have been drawn by the allure of flowers. This group exhibition excerpted from Aperture’s book The Photographer in the Garden celebrates the rich history of artists working in the garden as a site of inspiration and reinvention.
Sam Abell, Alice Austen, Mack Cohen, Stephen Gill, Lonnie Graham, Justine Kurland, Lori Nix, Bill Owens, Sheron Rupp, Collier Schorr, Mike Slack
Harry Noisette at The Garden of Enlightenment, Wilmot Frazier Elementary School, Spoleto, Charleston, SC 2002
The Photographer in the Garden
Above: Collier Schorr, Arrangement #12 (Blumen) 2008
When photography was introduced to the public in 1939, it immediately began to displace the record-making function of other art forms, such as drawing and painting. At the time, photographs seemed to be a direct transcription of reality, precisely recording what was put in front of the camera or in contact with photographic materials. In creating these early transcriptions, it is not surprising that most photographers turned to gardens for inspiration. The earliest processes worked best when the photosensitive surface was fresh or still wet. They also required long exposures to an intense source of light. Thus, photographers engaged with subject matter found in their own backyards since those spaces were close to darkrooms, provided abundant light for their compositions and often contained botanical specimens that could be used to test the light sensitivity of the chemistry.
Contemporary photographers continue to call into question the human-nature relationship that these public and private spaces have inspired and create images that take the viewer on a journey. Careful looking reveals that the garden is not natural at all, human-made and that “paradise” requires caretakes to shape nature. When considered together, the photographs here illustrate the changing relationship between humans and nature from the nineteenth century to today. From private flowerbeds to sweeping public spaces, photographers have documented our ever-changing attitude toward the natural world.
Their history takes us from an agricultural society through industrialization and suburbanization to today’s global community engaged in discussions about past and present land use. A study of the garden could tell us as much about the gardener as it does about the beauty of blossoms and reveals as much about landscaping as it does about an individual’s relationship to nature. The difference is one of degree rather than kind.
EXCERPTED FROM THE ESSAY THE GARDEN AS A SUBJECT IN PHOTOGRAPHY BY JAMIE M. ALLEN, ASSOCIATE CURATOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY, GEORGE EASTMAN MUSEUM, ROCHESTER, NEW YORK.
PRODUCED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
The Aperture Foundation
Northfield Bank Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs.