Seeing Gardens | Jennifer Pritchard

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Sam Abell is someone I admired for many years before meeting him.  His quiet photographs are imbued with my sensibilities.   I am reminded of my early associations with the Brandywine School of painters, Andrew Wyeth most notable among them, and my childhood aspirations for a creative life.  Sam’s work - his palette, his composition, is deeply natural and familiar to me and I am amongst his biggest fans.  

Sam’s name is always spoken with such regard.  He is admired by others I admire.  It was only natural that at some point, his lessons would become a part of my education.  More importantly, his voice is the one I hear in my head as I frame and execute a shot.  There is history now , and affection, for not only the photographer but the man, and it is with excitement that I am putting together my field kit for my second Seeing Gardens workshop.  

My first was October 2016.  Displaced and disoriented (a story for another time), I was searching for something that would expand and enlighten my soul - no easy feat.  Then,  I stumbled upon the workshop and submitted my portfolio.  The submission of a portfolio is often an anxiety laden process.  It is, after all, judgment.  Am I deserved?  Have I the skill to sit in a room with accomplished photographers and have my work amongst theirs?   It’s funny, as I prepared my photographs for his workshop - the anxiety has turned to excitement..  As I pull together my images, I am thinking of how my mentor, my friend (if I dare be so bold), can assist my growth in this new photographic life.  A perspective shift from judgment to critique.  I owe that shift to him and the experience of San Miguel 2016.   It kicked off a year of photographic living.

I have taken more intensive workshops with him than any other photographer .  I see the value in variety - the possibility that photographers not embedded in a similar aesthetic can more greatly expand one's  photographic platform.   Seeing Gardens, though, is a different story.  It continues the golden thread of teaching and learning that exists between Sam and me since that first meeting in Dallas years ago.  More importantly, I consider his lessons to be more of a philosophy of the photographic life.  I am a changed human from San Miguel 2016 and I suspect this year will be no different.

Seeing Gardens, is not a garden or landscape workshop.  It is a workshop on seeing.  How do you see?   What do you see?  And once seen, how do you execute a photograph that conveys your vision.  The feature photo for this story - taken in color a year ago - was a Sam pick from last year.   It is a complicated photograph, full of patience and timing, micro compositions, and one floral dress - a garden in the most metaphorical sense.  Sam traveled the globe for years as an assignment photographer for National Geographic.  His stories are gold.  Outside of his professional work he developed mini collections and encourages all his students to do the same.  One of his mini collections was Seeing Gardens.  The photo I selected of his to reflect this was taken on assignment in Russia while he was covering the life of Tolstoy.  I have come to understand that seeing gardens was his way of staying connected to home and other passions, while traversing the globe on his professional journey.   These mini collections are a thread of seeing that transcends the moment - it encourages the moment to stay - the title of one of his books.  The workshop therefore is not just about seeing, but about time and one’s connection to it over a life.

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And, finally, the room.   I remember well, the first day of last year’s workshop.  I have the four images I submitted for group review.    I remember seeing Ann’s first pieces and hearing her speak of her desire to illustrate her writing as she sat at the end of the semi circle with her big writing notebook in her lap,  I recall Chris’ pieces that were rooted in, literally,  out of this world experiences and his ability to capture the soul of a person.  I think of Arnie and Virginia’s gardens and the beauty that enfolds there each day.  The people in that room contributed greatly to my growth as a photographer and my idea of who I am in this, my new life.  I am thrilled to see them again as each of us return for this, the first anniversary of my photographic life and our connection to one another.


Jennifer Pritchard