Vaughn Sills, Places for the Spirit:
Traditional African American Gardens in the South
Bea Robinson, Athens, Georgia by Vaughn Sills
One early September afternoon in 1988, Vaughn Sills found herself on the porch of Bea Robinson’s house in Athens, Georgia. While her friend and Bea chatted about their lives, she looked around and became entranced by Bea’s garden. “Something came over me – or through me – as I stood in the garden, looking, feeling, sensing the energy or magic or spirit, call it what you will, that surrounded me.” On that warm, soft, sunny day, Sills took the first of what became a series of photographs, from throughout the South, that she worked on for nearly twenty years.
Sills’ series, Places of the Spirit, documents a tradition that is a way of using the land that is both historically significant and aesthetically resonant. Scholars have studied African American gardens and traced many of their traits to Africa, pointing out similar uses of the land and finding that slaves brought with them not only plant seeds, but agricultural expertise, some of it still in evidence today.
These gardens speak a certain language – a language, Sills is convinced, that is about the earth, about beauty, and about spirit.” Some of the vocabulary of this language is about belief and spiritual knowledge – the empty bottles, the pipes sticking upright out of the ground, dolls – and have specific meanings that relate to the spirits of ancestors or magical powers and that go back centuries and across an ocean; some of the vocabulary is functional, practical, born of necessity – the vegetable gardens, the chicken coops; and some is quite simply of beauty – the impatiens and petunias and pinks, the rose bushes, prickly pears, and canna lilies. The way the vocabulary is put together is based on tradition, custom, function, and each gardener’s sense of what looks pleasing – in a special and recognizable style. This style becomes the structure of the language; this structure is aesthetic; and this aesthetic is beauty.
The Book: Places for the Spirit
Places for the Spirit
Trinity University Press
San Antonio TX
“Looking at these black and white images sometimes feels like dropping paper flowers in a glass of water and watching them expand. Vaughn Sills’s images make the mind expand like a rose, fragrant with vision…. [Her] humility in the face of the order she finds in these various gardens is touching – and enlightening.” –Hilton Als
“Sills, who took these photographs in Georgia, the two Carolinas, Louisiana, [Mississippi], and Alabama, includes the location in each title. How could she not, these images are so idiosyncratically — so wondrously — specific. That said, they also convey a sense of being beyond place — and outside of time. Humanity, the Bible says, started in a garden. Looking at these photographs, one can see how it continues in gardens, too.” –Mark Feeney, The Boston Globe
Two photographs from this body of work are in the gorgeous new book, The Photographer in the Garden, published jointly by Aperture and the George Eastman House
Bio: Vaughn Sills’ work has been has been exhibited widely, in museums and galleries; the galleries of botanic gardens; and are in the collections of the DeCordova Museum, Harvard Art Museum, the Eaton Vance Collection, among others. Sills has received several significant awards — twice she received the Artist’s Fellowship in Photography by the Massachusetts Cultural Council; other grants and awards have come from the Artadia Dialogue for Art and Culture, the Polaroid Foundation, and The New England Foundation for the Arts.
Her photographs and books, Places for the Spirit, Traditional African American Gardens (2010) and One Family (2001) earned awards from the Garden Writers Association and the Magazine Association for the Southeast.
Vaughn is a Visiting Scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center and Associate Professor Emerita of Photography at Simmons College. She lives and works in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Prince Edward Island, Canada.
Sarah Sterling, Cultivated Chaos
Goldfinch and Redbud by Sarah Sterling
In Cultivated Chaos, Sarah Sterling documents the ongoing evolution of her Hudson NY garden—its metamorphoses through the seasons, along with its avian and insect visitors. As she seeks out the often unseen mysteries of the garden—ephemeral moments of exuberance and reflection, she creates unusual compositions and color combinations that suit her painterly vision. Sterling has learned over the years that her photographs, no matter how carefully planned, must yield to the plants which have their own agenda, creating the cheerful chaos that becomes the foreground, or background, of each composition.
Bio: Sarah Sterling of Hudson NY is an award winning photographer who has exhibited her work widely in the Hudson Valley region. Venues include Spencertown Academy galleries, John Davis Gallery, Hudson Area Library, Earle Mitchell Gallery, Davis Orton Gallery, Hudson Opera House, Berkshire Museum and Columbia Green Community College. Among her projects are “The Meadow”, an ongoing photo essay, Flower/Garden Abstract Series, and, individually, Birds, Dragonflies, and Insects.
The garden is growth and change and that means loss as well as constant new treasures to make up for a few disasters.
— May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude, 1973
Weeding by Laurie Blakeslee
For more than four decades, my mother-in-law Fritz has been gardening the same plot of land (approximately an 1/8 acre) behind her home in Boise, Idaho. Her children say they can hardly believe she maintained such a huge garden when she worked full time. Despite their protests to scale back the ambitious planting, each year the garden seems to expand. In the tremendous heat of late summer, even Fritz will admit she is overwhelmed by the work. Fortunately, my partner Stephanie shares her mother’s love of gardening and works alongside her.
For Fritz, this vegetable garden not only provides food for her family (and her lucky neighbors), it also allows a space for meditation through the ritual of daily maintenance. It is clear that, as Fritz, now in her mid 80s, grows older, this garden provides a way to maintain her vitality. With the series “40-Year Garden” I am photographing a garden in all its seasons of transformation and the beauty of Fritz with her resilience and determination.
Bio Laurie Blakeslee has worked in photo-based media for over 20 years. She has exhibited nationally and internationally. Her work is held in many collections including: Boise Art Museum, Center for Creative Photography UA Tucson AZ, Colorado University, Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and Paper, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Laurie is currently an Associate Professor of Art at BSU, where she teaches photography and coordinates the undergraduate Art Foundations program. She received a BFA from Boise State University with an emphasis in painting and an MFA in photography from the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Lisa Redburn, Water Tapestries
Blackberry Lily Ballet by Lisa Redburn
Lisa Redburn is drawn to water where the boundaries between real and reflected are fluid. Water Tapestries began as she wandered in nature, observing swamps and streams. She focused on the relationships among reflected light, decaying plant material, surface texture, and the mysteries hiding below. She saw these images as “water tapestries.”
Over time the series evolved into more intentional work, in her own garden. She made a ritual of gathering a handful of buds, petals, leaves, and seedpods, then scattering them over a basin of water. She watched them bob and sink, gently floating into and away from each other. The process of creating these images in her garden wove together two strands of her creative life: gardener and photographer. “The botanica mingling in the water and the trees reflected there were old friends, seen in new ways.” Through this series, Redburn explores the tension between fluid and fixed, visible and invisible, control and serendipity, what is passing and what is to come. She has since moved, but ephemera from the garden she created live on in her photography.
Bio: Lisa Redburn is a fine-art photographer whose work explores the fluid boundaries between the real, reflected, and remembered. She finds layered stories in the puddles of Paris, ponds and bogs, botanica, and the patina of time.
Lisa’s work has appeared in numerous juried shows, nationally, including Monmouth Museum, Monmouth NJ and the Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester MA. She has received international recognition including: finalist in both the Pollux Awards and in the Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Women Photographers; Juror’s Award of Merit in the Grand Prix de la Decouverte 2013 International Fine Art Competition; Best of Show in Reflections 2014 at the Photography Center of Cape Cod, and 3rd place in Viewpoints 2016 at Aljira Gallery, Newark NJ. Her images have appeared in Photo Review, Lens Work’s “Seeing in Sixes,” YourDailyPhotograph.com and donttakepictures.com.
Lisa has work in the Sloan Kettering Ambulatory Care Center in Lincroft, NJ, and in private collections. She recently moved to Plymouth, MA from Montclair, NJ.
In “Orchard Trail” Michal Greenboim creates photographic diptychs. These photographs were taken as individual images over the years, as daily responses to the world around her, as in a visual journal, and later paired. In examining the photographs she realized that she “had subconsciously been photographing [her] childhood.” She says, “The pictures in front of me held deep memories of curiosity, innocence and wonder. They were my remembrances, wandering in the backyard, exploring moments like the sound of a tree [or] a bird in the sky.”
She grew up in a small town in Israel called Pardes Chana that means Hana Orchard. She says of her childhood “the town was full of orange, avocado and mango orchards. I remember neighbors stopping by with mangos and [we] giving our avocados in exchange. Kids would walk by themselves to the next-door-neighbors for story time or a piano lesson. I remember going with my father to pick oranges from our orchard. When I look at my photographs …, I am reminded of who I truly am.”
Bio: Michal Greenboim developed an early interest in photography after watching her grandfather, who always had a camera present to capture family moments. Following a career as an interior designer and computer engineer, she later moved into photography, publishing her first photography book “Orchard Trail,” a narrative of childhood stories and memories, in 2016.Greenboim has exhibited her work in shows across the United States, including a recent solo exhibition of “Orchard Trail” The Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester MA. She has also shown her work at the Art of Photography Show in San Diego and at the Los Angeles Center for Photography in California, Photo Place in Vermont, Tilt Gallery in Arizona , Dickerman Gallery in San-Francisco, Orton Davis in Hudson, NY and Fabric project in Los Angeles . Her photograph “Rear Blues” won third place in the “World in Place” competition in the “Sense of Place” category, PDN Magazine, December 2016. In 2017, Greenboim was awarded an exhibition at the Griffin Museum from the Los Angeles Center of Photography. Greenboim now lives in La Jolla, California and started her MFA studies in June 2017.
Kev Filmore, 21 Magnolia Rd.
Dad, Ice by Kev Filmore
21 Magnolia Rd. is Kev Filmore’s childhood story about being raised by seemingly successful, but mentally ill parents in the 1960’s. Her mixed media compositions illustrate her search for the truth about her upbringing, which, despite a happy facade, was riddled with addiction, sexual abuse and emotional neglect. Filmore realized early on that life did not have to be miserable.She had two worlds growing up, the one at home and the other one waiting just outside our front door and in her imagination. She learned to see beauty where shadows loomed.
“Examining the stuff of my childhood has revealed, reinforced, and left some questions still unanswered. I put the past back together, along with myself in the process.”
Bio: Kev Filmore, of Hudson-on-Croton NY, began her lifelong love of exploring photographic processes including mix media, while earning a BFA from University of the Arts. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, PDNEDU and PDN’s 2010 Annual. Her Dreamers series received a 2005 Golden Light Award and her Abandoned series earned second place Portfolio by PIEA in 2009. From 2014 through 2018, images from her current series, 21 Magnolia Rd., have been selected for inclusion in exhibitions at Garrison Art Center, Tilt Gallery, The Griffin Museum, Candela Gallery and The Curated Fridge. This project was also featured in October 2017 issue #18 of The HAND Magazine and is in the permanent PhotoPlace Online Gallery for Myths, Legends, and Dreams. Filmore is a Nationally Honored Educator 2016, and was awarded a Vivian Pomex Sabbatical 2017-18.
Flynn Larsen’s series of images is an interweaving of still life and portraiture, made to preserve the memory of her daughter’s smallness, and the abundance of her imagination. The portraits, woven in among the still lifes, tell the story of the time before her baby brother came along, and after. These photographs are from Larsen’s motherly point of view; as she makes each, she also imagines herself looking at them decades down the line, as if to say to her future self, “remember this? And This? And this?”
Bio: Flynn Larsen, of Beacon NY, has published two books: The Autobiography of an Apartment House (2014), a collaboration with her father exploring stories of the Upper West Side tenants in the building in which was raised, and Nature Morte (2013), a meditation on the quiet emotion of objects and spaces in domestic settings. One of her Cosmic Dust photographs was recently included in a juried group show at the Davis Orton Gallery, in Hudson, NY. She is currently working on a long term series of self-portraits, as well as a project about history and its interpretation, plus continuing her commercial work as a portrait and documentary photographer for a range of clients.
Larsen was born and raised in New York City, studied English Literature at Carleton College (Northfield, MN), and Photography at Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, CA), returning to New York to start a commercial photography practice. She lives in Beacon, NY with her husband and two children.
Leslie Jean-Bart, Memories of Childhood By the Sea
The Pull of the Sea by Leslie Jean-Bart
“The ocean is a magical place to me.” In Haiti, during childhood summers, Leslie Jean-Bart and his older brother would spend countless hours swimming in the ocean, in absolute delight. These memories have nourished and sustained him. “By the sea side is a place where I can regain my balance, where I can think clearly, where I can create, and where I can be a kid again without caring for even a fraction of a second what others may think or not.
Bio: Born in Haiti where he acquired his love for the ocean, Leslie Jean-Bart now lives in New York City. He works predominantly in the medium of photography. After earning a master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University, Jean-Bart was on staff at Sotheby’s and Christies where he was surrounded daily by the world’s greatest art.
Leslie began exhibiting in 2001, when a number of his collages were part of the exhibit “Committed To The Image: Contemporary Black Photographers” at the Brooklyn Museum. From 2001-2003 he took part in a number of group exhibits at Monique Goldstrom Gallery in SoHo, NYC. In 2004 Jean-Bart became the sole caretaker of his mother who has dementia. During one of the most trying period of taking care of his mother, Jean-Bart started “Reality & Imagination”, his ongoing series of eight years. He has since had solos and taken part in group exhibits in NYC and various states in the US.