These images were created in historical gardens, under restoration and maintenance at the time, from three specific eras - Elizabethan, Georgian and Victorian. I was originally drawn to photographing this subject by the BBC show “Restoration” which holds contests for the renewal of traditional gardens and awards funds to the winners for landscape restoration projects. The focus of this program made me realize how landscape design can contribute to the making of a cultural identity.
The historical garden is, in many ways, a living museum. When first created, such gardens were usually the private preserves of the wealthy and aristocratic, whereas today they are public and open to anyone who cares to pay the admission fee, much like any other cultural display. It is somewhat ironic that the general public, originally excluded from these gardens, now embraces them as part of its own cultural heritage. A living, growing diorama, the historical garden provides an opportunity to imagine life in another time, and to consider the sometimes complementary and sometimes uneasy relationships between the natural world and the human desire to shape it in a particular way.
In my more established series, vague terrain, I am not so concerned with the specificity of place as I am with the ambiguities created by the de-contextualized images. In this newer work in heritage gardens, however, I am interested in focusing on a specific kind of site, one that has a well-documented history and has been recorded photographically innumerable times by both tourists and commercial photographers. This pre-existing catalogue of visual history challenged my way of working with a subject, forcing me to research extensively before photographing. By studying what others before me had photographed through idealized lenses, I was able to refine my own point of view: finding instances of vulnerability behind the celebrated and durable conceptions of these gardens.
Constant vigilance, maintenance and restoration by a host of professional designers, gardeners and volunteers help to maintain the illusion of the perfect garden and provide a focus for the cultural pride of many visitors. However, instead of romanticizing heritage gardens as magnificent, enduring displays of power and beauty, I am drawn to images which reveal the fragile balance between nature and the requirements of human design in the gardens, underscoring the fact that that they are in essence evolving, ever-changing environments.