Seeing Gardens, Cultivating Eden | Ann Whittaker

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“Wherever you find the greatest good, you will find the greatest evil, because evil loves paradise as much as good.” 

-Wallace Stegner | All the Little Live Things


On the first day of my first workshop about Seeing Gardens with Sam Abell, I wondered: 

How will I photograph gardens as the place where, in western tradition, the human race began? Eden. How will I document our attempt as a human race to tame and order nature into something that pleases us and calms us––and gets rid of what we have come to see as weeds? 

We humans look for patterns to make sense of the chaos; we look for a clear path through the jungle of choices we must make each day; we look for a way to create a life free of suffering, confusion, and death. Sam showed us how to make order in all the chaos–to compose the calming feeling of a garden back at home anywhere in the world. Travel can be chaotic, and so he learned to find gardens while riding a bus in Russia, sitting for tea in Japan, or visiting his godchild who slept peacefully on a floral sofa. Life can feel so haphazard at times, and so we organize it as best we can to feel that everything has its place, its purpose, its beauty. Gardens, of any kind, allow us to cultivate wildness into sequential narrative. 

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As photographers, we capture a moment, attempting to create eternity where every element lives on in an image. There is no beginning or end–it simply exists as it is in that one moment, nothing changing. And yet, gardens are captured throughout all seasons, throughout all the years, and so we are left with eternal images of birth (spring), growth (summer), harvest (fall), and death (winter). A garden book of images will remind a human that it is natural to evolve through the stages of life–and that the end of one life is the beginning of another. A garden picture can remind us that we are all subject to evolution. 


And what about the untamed gardens? The gardens untouched by human hands, human design? What about the gardens that nature herself allows to grow, entangle, and die again and again and again? Seeing gardens is our attempt to see every detail without it getting lost in the thorns, the blossoms, the roots, the boughs. It reminds us that every piece must be there to make the entire beauty and terror of it all. 

For me, seeing gardens is about finding the balance of letting things run their course while simultaneously paying attention to the details, enjoying every bit–the wild, the orderly, the seasonal, the eternal. 

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