Since 2004, I have been photographing urban and community gardens. This project has taken me across the USA and throughout Europe as well as to Cuba, Mongolia, and Japan (and I hope to expand it into a global survey). In these seemingly humble spaces I find an enticing edge of our culture: gardens are a formal, conceptual, and practical bridge between today’s cities and the wilderness landscapes of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Some of these gardens are purely utilitarian, such as the subsistence agriculture tied to maximizing productivity, while others are purely aesthetic, i.e. the urban allotments of the developed world which are often made for leisure. But in these spaces, I have found contexts that seem to redefine expectations in terms of what is urban/rural, public/private, modern/primitive, nature/nurture, and global/local.
The sites I have chosen to photograph often portray horticulture at an intimate scale: found along the margins of human settlement, these patches of earth are normally separated from the surrounding landscape and the observer by a flimsy fence. Land ownership is often tenuous, between our ideas of ‘public space’ and ‘private land.’ I aim to weave together these plots of land around the world as I portray the many stark contrasts I have found in these sites. Through these photographs, I strive to relate the spaces of these gardens to the world beyond the garden’s fence and my photograph’s framing. I hope to depict a world where the natural and the civilized are not thought of as mutually exclusive dichotomies, but as ideas and places that can sustainably coexist.
Ten thousand years ago the stability created by the gardening and agriculture of the Neolithic Revolution allowed for the first cities to be built. Since then, subsistence agriculture has been practiced by most every culture and in extremely diverse climates, from the tropics to the arctic. The methodology used and the produce cultivated vary widely depending on the culture and climate; this ties these spaces to the landscape they are found in and the people that cultivate them. This connection to people and place is what make it a garden.
The popularity of these gardens has seen a rapid rise around the world in the early 21st century. Gardeners cite a wide variety of reasons for this, from the practical and economic to the political and philosophical. Globalization, and our increased awareness of abstract global issues, does indeed seem to be linked to an increasing number of people seeking this tangible and intimate connection to the landscape. A renewed interest in self-sufficiency and local/organically grown food is apparent in the developed world. Increasing food prices and shortages have encouraged those in the developing world to grow their own produce. As populations continue to rise and the climate changes, it seems inevitable that such gardening projects will become even more vital and these needs more pressing.