“Photography is as much a gateway to the inner world of the photographer/viewer as it is to the beauty displayed in the outer world. A garden is a setting for having this kind of experience on multiple levels – simultaneously sensual, aesthetic and spiritual.”
Last week I read about a Victorian style conservatory in a park about an hour south of Seattle. Glass houses, where plants thrive in close proximity and perfume the air with possibility, are among my favorite places to explore with a camera. I love the way they transform the immediate environment – it’s like taking a quick trip to a tropical paradise.
Years ago a friend’s son got me a temporary job at the New York Botanical Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory – a dream position. I didn’t care about the grunt work hauling cuttings with a wheelbarrow through the houses, or the times my backside was riddled with cactus spines from weeding in the cactus beds. I was happy to be part of maintaining one of the grandest conservatories in the world. But I digress….
I drove down to Tacoma to check out the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. It is quite small, but lovingly cared for. With a central dome and just two wings, the space is packed with plants. There are tall trees hung with vines, Spanish moss and other epiphytes, flower displays, and the usual suspects – orchids, bamboo, tree ferns, agaves, etc. A water feature is tucked into a corner where a tinkling stream tumbles over fern-framed rocks into a dark pool. The swirling water flashes orange and white with koi. One elegant cream-colored fish, an ogon butterfly koi, steals the show. Its sail-like fins and tail curl and eddy the water like a magician flicking his wrists.
I decided to photograph the koi with a long shutter speed to convey the mesmerizing blur of forms and colors churning the water.
There’s something about conservatories that always inspires me. They keep me focused on something I love – the astonishing, delightful multiplicity of plant forms.
Bamboo provided an opportunity to experiment with intentional blur. I moved the camera in various ways, while keeping the shutter open for about a half a second.
Leaves of the ground cover below created a tapestry pattern. I converted the photo to black and white later. Spanish moss inspired me to use an in camera filter called Key Lines – that image is pretty much straight out of the camera. Another in camera filter plus processing in LR, was used for the black and white fern photo.
Some plants warrant a more straightforward approach.
Spanish moss (not a moss at all, but an epiphyte member of the Bromeliaceae) is so plentiful in the conservatory that one clump was wrapped around a metal bracket to get it out of the way. The shop has strands of it for sale! Spanish moss still reminds me of childhood Easter vacations with my grandparents on an island off the coast of Georgia, where it grows profusely on huge old live oaks. The plant has no roots, absorbing nutrients and moisture through tiny scales on the surface of the strands. I came to love it, and brought a clump home to my apartment the last year I went to the island. I knew enough to keep it near the shower where it could have a humid environment but still, it didn’t last more than a few months. Technically, it doesn’t depend on oak trees (or telephone wires!) for anything but support and closer proximity to the light, but I think something was missing chez moi. Maybe having other plants nearby would have helped maintain more consistent humidity and temperature. In a similar way, I think conservatory plants benefit from growing together.
Speaking of growing, I am working on growing my camera skills and focusing my aesthetic. To that end, I’m relying on and paying more attention to the community of other photographers online, and balancing that with time alone. Also, I’m focusing on a few projects – one is a series of photos looking through windows, especially fogged up greenhouse windows.
I walked around the conservatory outside to see if there were any fogged up windows with plants close behind them (pressing against them is best). Yes! I found a place around back where the jungle of plants pushed up against the windows.
That will be for another post, but here’s one look at the inside, from the outside.