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Archive for July, 2008

Secret Gardens

This is an odd and rambling shaggy dog story. I’ve taken up gardening recently and spend quite a bit of time poring over manuals on how to raise tomatoes, amend soil, make compost, set up planting schedules, etc

All of this gardening on the brain made me remember a book I’d picked up a few years back that’s been gathering dust on the shelf, unread: Derek Jarman’s Garden, a journal the filmmaker penned at his cottage in Dungeness in southeast England where he spent hours tending his garden as he slowly succumbed to AIDS. “The flowers blossomed while Derek faded.”

I first stumbled on the book during a long weekend in Nevada City—a tiny outpost in the Sierras that dates from the Wild West era and that’s now, oddly enough, home to several bookstores. One shop with a few stalls on the front porch had its “Closed” sign out but a note hung in the window asking visitors to slip money under the door if they found something they liked. I discovered Jarman’s diary with the price of $1 penciled inside the cover so I slipped a bill under the front door. There was a sense of rightness in finding the book and a weird feeling of grace in the self-regulated trust between buyer and seller.

I dipped into reading it again a week ago. One of Jarman’s lines popped out at me: “I can look at one plant for an hour, this brings me great peace. I stand motionless and stare.” I completely understand this, having spent quite a few mornings peering into pots looking for seedlings or checking on plants that need attention. It is a completely calming, meditative activity…and I feel the same soothing effect as I float through Jarman’s prose.

The book is accompanied by London photographer Howard Sooley‘s images. Sooley keeps a blog on The Guardian UK site and just recently wrote again about his project with Jarman. I imagine that if Virginia Woolf had wanted someone to capture the view from Monk’s House, her country retreat, Sooley with his romantic images of storms and thickets and quiet parlors would be her man.

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Russian photographer Alexei Vassiliev‘s hazy subjects hover just beyond the viewer’s reach, disappearing in a blur caused by a sudden movement or an out-of-focus lens. A woman in a turquoise coat stands in a metro station, bobbed brown hair and a tired swanlike sway to her neck. Her gaze beams directly at the camera, but her eyes are indistinct, hollow gray fields that make her glance all the more intriguing and intense.

Vassiliev who now lives and works in Paris describes it this way: “The more blurred the subjects of these portraits, the more they looked as if they were on the verge of dissolving, fading away, or disappearing — that is when their presence really asserted itself.

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