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Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Garden: Photography that doesn't put you in a corner


In Blue Mud Swamp, the colour blue sets the tone. Another book where colour dominates and defines the story is Alessandro Imbriaco's The Garden - but this time the colours are murky greens, browns and greys, dusk colours that rise like a miasma from the Roman swamp where Imbriaco made the pictures.

The Garden is the story of a swamp, a wild tangle of brambles, weeds and trees on the edge of a Roman highway. And in the middle of the swamp live Piero, Angela a - a homeless couple who have made their home in this Garden - and Lupa, their daughter who was born and is being raised there, the trees and streams and underpasses her playground.

The Garden is an Edenic reference but I think it's all a bit more pagan than that - more of a Pan's Labyrinth than Eden, a place where life is more nuanced than the monotheistic ideas that Eden represents. Little Lupa is no Eve. She has knowledge of the world around her and it is a good thing. No sin attaches to her because of what she is.

Despite, or perhaps because of  this pagan quality, there is a real earthiness to the book that is not at all romantic. It also feels real, but not in the gritty kind of way that puts you in a corner and doesn't give you a choice. There always seems to be a choice in The Garden - of how you read the characters, the landscape, the environment, and that seems to be something that is quite rare. It's not a spectacle and it's not a prescription. You are free to see what you want to see and think what you want to think.

I'm not sure why that should seem so special but it does. There is so much photography, especially of a 'serious' nature, that ties you up in knots, that seeks to put you into a particular place  in the way that you see and understand it. It's a kind of photographic correctness, where even though you may agree wholeheartedly with what is being said or shown, the resentment at being forced to agree with the sentiments of the work, the inability of the work to offer even a second dimension or alternative perspective makes one want to disagree with it just for the sake of it. It's Stupid Photography that doesn't enlighten or engage, but just shuts things up and makes one long for something that is open and free. Photography isn't always open or free. The Garden is.

Read my interview with Alessandro Imbriaco in the BJP here.


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