When I began to photograph plants in my yard, I felt a sense of wonder as I observed each plant. Whether beautiful or perhaps sometimes disconcerting, tiny parts of a tree or plant were compelling. For example, I observed that even the smallest leaf of a pomegranate tree had functioned to promote growth of this tree.
For my camera I constructed spaces to reveal and emphasize small parts of familiar trees and plants. I hoped these tableaux could set a mood and a space for contemplation. I wanted the images to remind a viewer of the natural world that underlies technology and machines. The visual spaces consist of actual layers of art materials lit with simple lighting. Sometimes I marked layers with water or creases, responding to forms of a plant.
As I reflected back into deep time, I understood that plant growth over countless millennia has made our human lives possible. Plants and trees are our fellow beings; fundamentally they are what we breathe and what we eat.
My hope is for humans to tend our global garden.
DREAMING A GARDEN
I wanted to visit the OAEC* gardens in Sonoma County because I had a long-standing interest in environmental issues. When I explored the site, I was fascinated with the beauty and abundance of the plantings. I began to understand how a garden is about hopes and dreams. This three-acre organic teaching garden speaks to goals of sustainable agriculture and harmony with nature.
I made the images at dawn. At this time of day the gardens seemed especially mysterious. In the stillness of dawn, as sunlight gradually appeared, the earth woke up. Insects flew, birds called and the plants also began their daily growth. I was witness to the timeless phenomenon of life beginning. The plants were present like mysterious fellow-beings, each with its own history. The process of growth seemed mysterious and awesome.
I used infrared film for the project. Since this film is sensitive to chlorophyll activity in plants, it records a plant as a living, growing subject. When the plant begins growth activity at dawn, this activity can register on infrared film. Thus, my film recorded what I myself could not see. At this time, I wondered what occurs at the edges of our human existence? By paying attention to the daily cycle of plants, I attempted, at least mentally, to step outside of a human-centered view.
* Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, Occidental, California
After a long-time neighbor moved away, I wanted to photograph her house and garden. I admired her spirit and her zest for life, and I felt that photographing her environment was a way to say a private goodbye. The new owners intended to bulldoze the tiny home and later to build a much larger place. Perhaps I was also saying goodbye to a way of life.
I became especially interested in an old fig tree in one corner of the yard. The shapes of the leaves were beautiful. When I looked carefully, I was fascinated with each leaf; they were alike, but each was different. I understood that this tree, like its owner, was a unique individual, with decades of life experiences. The fig tree was the beginning of an extended series of photographs.
I made the images in Spring Leaves series with infrared film. I don't think I could have done this work with any other film. Infrared film is sensitive to light; in addition, it records the heat of chlorophyll growth activity. Thus, this film sees actual growth activity that my eyes do not see. I was very interested to understand that my own observations were only a partial view of reality.
Infrared film produces imprecise, relatively loose images. I particularly liked the idea that the images did not appear to record a fixed moment. If a moment appears open-ended rather than decisively fixed in time and vision, it suggests a change or even a beginning, rather than an end. I liked the idea that an image could suggest a future.
As I worked on my project in gardens of my friends and neighbors, I was reminded that the positive forces of nature are quietly at work. Growth seems miraculous, and photographing leaves and branches is a way to celebrate this.
These images pay homage to small voices. During many walks by the Pacific Ocean, I was fascinated by the multitudes of stones and shells; I even saw some bones. I think these small pieces of life and earth have their own stories. I always wonder where they have been and how long they have been tumbling about. With these questions, my imagination travels.
One day when I was at home, a bird flew into my window. Much later after this sad event, I gave the bird a story in the image “Painted Bird”. I felt respect for this fellow vertebrate; perhaps I also felt some fear at the sight of the sudden death.
The plants, bones, shells and stones are all related as parts of the incredible web of life on our planet. When seen in such small details, life seems very fragile; but I really think the extensive interconnections reveal a great strength. Over time, stones will become earth; bones will be part of new life.
My working situation allowed me to improvise with light and materials. Each image is a single exposure on film. I constructed the images in actual space. I used various actual layers of translucent materials for each scene.