Gardeners often talk of their state of mind. Gardening relaxes them. It changes their mood or perspective. It makes them feel differently about their lives. Although we often imagine that moods and states of mind are attributes of an individual, these experiences of gardening suggest that states of mind are a matter of ecology or sociology rather than individual psychology. The changed state of mind befalls the gardener; it emerges from their relation with the garden.
Indeed, just to take this thought a step further, maybe this is what is important about gardens. They are special places where people learn that what is innermost is also outside them. This is how they learn how they fit in a broader world that includes them but doesn’t belong to them. Continue reading A gardening state of mind→
When we decided to have a stream built in the backyard, the landscape gardener asked two questions. What sound did we want from the small waterfall? Did we want moss on the rocks? He returned with metres of pvc pipe, rolls of pool liner, and truckloads of bare bushrock and river pebble. He was finished in three days, and at first his stream looked as artificial as a water feature in a shopping centre.
To learn to take photographs is to relearn how to see. Whereas the selfie and tourist snapshot are confirming, the viewfinder and focus dial on a camera force you to reconsider what you are really seeing and how you are framing the world. They probe both the world and your unconscious preconceptions.
The focus dial, in particular, tests out relations of scale. Working as both microscope and telescope, it allows you to see things that are too small or too large or too distant or too close for you to normally see. As you test its possibilities, you glide between macrocosm and microcosm, part and whole. What is your focus? What is your detail detail of? What are you really seeing when you look at this or that? What are its wider implications? Dare you acknowledge a scale that you would usually brush aside?
Something’s been thumping on our roof at night. It could have been the neighbourhood cats.
Something’s been eating the succulents on the balcony, even after protective wire was put around them. It could have been a rat, perhaps.
At night, something rowdy has been ransacking the camellia flowers and shaking loose the palm nuts from high up the neighbour’s tree. It could have been the flying foxes.
When I have woken in the earliest hours of the morning, and looked myopically through the bedroom window, isn’t that a silhouetted animal I’ve seen, scrambling down the long branches of the ash tree? Continue reading Charismatic Mammals→
This magnificent jacaranda tree is in our neighbour’s yard, but it overshadows ours, just as its roots must underlie the gardens of the neighbours further south and west. After a couple of weeks of taking photos of my garden, I realised that I had been treating it as off-limits. Unconsciously, I thought that I’d be cheating on the terms of the project if I included it. Continue reading Borrowed landscape→
Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall is based on a tension between two attitudes to fences. The narrator, noting how his stone wall needs continuous repair, is struck by the intuition ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’. When he puts this suggestion to his neighbour, pointing out that the neighbour’s pine trees are not endangered by his apple trees, the neighbour rebuffs him: ‘Good fences make good neighbours.’ Continue reading Fences and bridges→
For the past few months, since beginning this photographic project, I have been uploading photos every day to an Instagram account. There are now many hundreds there. Every photo is different but every one is also the same.
Take this image. What do you see? A fist? An embryo? A fern? A mother and child? A helix? A shell? A heart in a rib cage? A mathematical formula? Continue reading What do you see?→
The film Smoke centres on everyday mysteries and on the friendship between Paul Benjamin, a novelist with writer’s block, and Auggie Wren, the manager of a Brooklyn cigarette shop. One day Paul is surprised to discover that Auggie doesn’t just sell cigarettes. He also has a vocation. He takes photographs. More specifically, he has taken a series of four thousand pictures, each of them shot at the same time of day and of the same place: the corner of Third Street and Seventh Avenue, where his shop stands. He cannot explain why he does this. “It just came to me”, he says. “It’s my corner, after all. It’s just one little part of the world, but things happen there, too, just like everywhere else. It’s a record of my little spot.” Continue reading Everyday Mystery→
For the past few months, I have been having Italian lessons with a wonderful teacher who has insisted that I just speak – ‘avanti, avanti’ – without thinking about making perfect sentences, without worrying about making mistakes. ‘Keep it simple’, my teacher says, ‘listen’, and ‘ask questions’. This is the way to make contact. If you are thinking about grammar and how to construct your next sentence, you’re likely to lose contact. Continue reading Learning Italian→