My first photographs in the Russell’s greenhouses were shot in May 2008. I didn’t intend to go there, let alone make pictures there, but a few of the photographs I made that day were interesting. I was intrigued by the contrast between the natural elements and the built form, the skeletal structure and the regimented rows of seedlings. Of course I had been in greenhouses before and had made pictures in them, but something somehow was different here. I sensed I was being given a gift, but I had no idea at the time how significant that gift would turn out to be. I wanted to go back and approach photographing there more intentionally. It ended up being quite a while before I did.
The photographs in this series were taken over a two-year period, from June 2013 to May 2015. With few exceptions, they were shot during the May-June planting season. I’m embarrassed to confess that I’m not particularly interested in gardening, and know nothing about plants or planting. Yet I found the greenhouse complex at Russell’s to be a remarkably dimensional motif. Because of their extent and variety, you’re drawn in right away. Immersed, it’s easy to feel freely disoriented; the greenhouses at Russell’s seem to fold into each other endlessly. There’s the ambiguity of being outdoors and indoors at the same time, at once wild and tame. The space is warm and bright and fecund. The subject matter is sweet and vivid and colorful. In the pictures, that tease quickly gives over to something more mysterious and much more interesting. The anticipation of luscious colorful floral displays is largely disappointed. Many of the pictures have few if any plants at all. Yet the fecundity and magnetism of the space becomes even stronger.
When a friend saw the full-sized workprints for the show he remarked on the limitlessness they present. I thought he was referring to the device I used in several of the pictures—the extreme convergence of the greenhouse grid to a vanishing point at the very center of the image. He said, “No—it’s the infinitudes!” From a distance, you are magnetized by the compositional structure, the quality of light, the dynamics of color relationships. You are sucked in, seduced. Then the picture becomes relentless. It will not let go. The details—microcompositions—become worlds unto themselves, and they are everywhere, demanding your attention. There is nowhere in the picture that does not reward a close look. All sorts of relationships begin to emerge. Elements that at first seemed incidental take on an unexpected importance. Everything is reflecting everything else. The hoses and dripper weights and trucks and ladders, the boards and blocks and even the grains of gravel have a life of their own. Not just the plants, or the occasional furtive human presence—everything in the space is alive, and the space itself is alive.
That physicality of these photographs is important to me. Especially with the advent of electronic media, we tend to relate to photographs as disembodied images. If we see an image of a Jackson Pollock painting on screen—or even in a book—we well know that it is a pale reproduction of the actual object and its power in presence. We have no such distance looking at photographs. For some time now there has been an inclination among photographers (and their handlers) to print their work as large as they possibly can, I suspect to overcompensate for that very issue. Too often the increase in scale is of little significance in the actual presence of the photograph. But these images don’t work that way. Paradoxically, the larger they are, the more concentrated they are. (At least up to a point; the exhibition prints range up to 40”x 60”) Now I am painfully aware that 40”x 60” prints on rag paper are not easily domesticated; the book is an attempt to extend the range and temporality of the exhibition while reducing its scale. In this context, the pictures take on a different persona. For the pictures have a life of their own as well. I hope that some of the tangible quality of the inkjet prints, both large and small, comes through in the book.