About "50 Acres"
FIFTY ACRES: IN ZEZE’S GARDEN, 2006-2013
Series: Big Blooms, Fowl Portraits, Paradisus, Disturbed Paradise
This project, which I began in 2006, is an ongoing photographic exploration of one idyllic fifty acre farm and garden estate owned by renowned NYC florist Zezé, that is close to my home in the Hudson Valley. The entire collection is comprised of thousands of photographs devoted to this one unique place, and includes the four series: Big Blooms, Fowl Portraits, Paradisus and Disturbed Paradise. Rather than a subject, for me, this garden has become a site for a specific way of seeing, and as a result a specific way of making photographs. I quickly learned that documenting the superficial garden, however extraordinary, was a limited pursuit and I set out to see just how far I could go beyond it’s obvious physical borders. Photographing each element not once, but scores of times over the last eight years, I continue to search for new ways of relating to and representing the garden, adopting this particular place as my global landscape. In this world as I envision it, reference points seem to vanish, landscapes begin to animate, birds take on human personalities in formal portrait studies, and flowers stripped of all floral context, transform into powerful new personas.
I started working with the idea for this series ten years ago with a photograph I made of one pale pink peony that resembled the profile of a young girl. When I began the Fifty Acres project, the one thing I missed was having people in my pictures and this became the inspiration for both the Big Blooms and Fowl Portraits series. In Big Blooms I photograph each flower isolated on a stark white background and lit as a human portrait subject. Working with concepts of size, scale and gesture, I coax each of my botanical subjects to display some whimsically anthropomorphic characteristic that evokes a feminine persona. Unique specimens are critical and are selected from the hundreds that I cut from Zezé’s lush flower gardens each spring and summer. Each year nature asserts itself with unexpected changes in the gardens, which along with the continual evolution of new species Zezé introduces, yields vastly different results each season. Most recently, with our warm and early springs followed by late frosts in the Hudson Valley, the flowers have the unique and delicate beauty of willful survivors; fragile and enticing in their momentary splendor. As Big Blooms, all of the photographs in this series are made to be printed large-scale.
In this series, inspired by Early American and 17th century Dutch portrait paintings, I photograph live birds on the farm standing in front of a black background and gazing directly into the camera as formal portrait subjects. Without considering the photographic impossibility, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that I have manipulated these wild birds to make them pose and engage with my camera away from their natural habitat. In reality, I construct a makeshift studio under a tree in the middle of the garden adjacent to the henhouse and photograph each bird for as long as it will stand freely. After years of working to establish a connection with these wild creatures, I am convinced each subsequent time that I am making my way a little more into their feathered world. In fact, progressively, as I venture into their world, these individual birds bravely and curiously venture into mine, and my photographs are a poignant tribute to our species blending interactions. In deference to the original settlers in the Hudson Valley, I assign Early American and Dutch names to my fowl subjects, signifying each one who walks onto my canvas.
In Paradisus, a traditional landscape series, I am specifically drawn to individual elements in Zezé’s gardens; icons that represent the humans who live and work in them. The whimsically placed garden statuary and architectural items, the hand wrought twig bridges and landscapes that make me think of Constable, Rousseau and the flower fields of Provence. Exploring the thin line between reality and fantasy, I see the landscape in Paradisus as equally art and nature; in changing light and seasons. Landscapes that to me at times evoke a silent theater lit by sunshine, with each element a unique and willing performer on my stage. Through systematic and repeated sequences, Paradisus is a place of contentment in which existence is positive, harmonious and timeless.
Contrasted with Paradisus, Disturbed Paradise is landscape reduced to the essential form, line and structure of groupings of trees, devoid of any human references. In this series I push the creative limits of traditional and experimental photography continuing a lifelong interest with in-camera manipulation of my image at the time of exposure. I have found that by applying precise movements under specific lighting conditions, I can control the effect I want to achieve at a given time during the exposure. It is important to me that what is seen in the print is the same as what I saw in the viewfinder. Over the last seven years in the garden, I’ve discovered that each season has its own particular movement which becomes the true subject of these works. In Disturbed Paradise trees are abstract yet distinctly anthropomorphic, alternating between staggered groupings as if engaged in social interactions that are contemplative, meditative, relational and dynamic. In these animated landscapes I direct the viewer to openly engage with my subjects in complex new ways.