Kimberly Post Rowe: an iPhone in the Garden
I was raised in a close relationship with the natural world. Some of my earliest and fondest nature memories are from upstate New York, and all these years later, they remain quite visceral. Every summer my family would camp and hike in the Adirondack mountains and I still recall the textures of different tree barks and the view from the top of Owl’s Head Mountain, my first mountain to conquer. My grandpa lived in a tiny village in the Catskills and I loved tromping through the woods with him. I can still hear the crunch of the leaves and smell the earthy scent of the forest, ripe with pine and decomposing leaves. My grandpa always asked for my help digging the last of the potatoes and carrots from his garden before the serious snow hit, and to this day I can remember the brilliant oranges, yellows, and reds of the autumn leaves and the scent of woodsmoke and damp earth.
I grew up in Massachusetts on a lake next to the ocean and my parents were both active in environmental preservation, particularly at the local level. My Dad was an environmental scientist and my mom was a first grade teacher specializing in natural science. Terms like “water quality,” “invasive species,” and “environmental indicators” were commonly heard around the house. Mom, like my grandpa, always had a kitchen garden, but hers was interplanted with lots of flowers as well. She would send me to her garden to pick peas or gather herbs and I would lose myself gazing inside blossoms, admiring their stamens and anthers where the pollen clustered. Did you know that part of the flower is the androecium, from the Greek andros oikia, meaning man’s house? Then of course there’s the sticky tip of the pistil, the stigma, which is the receptor of the pollen. The female part of the flower is the gynoecium, which as you can probably guess, comes from the Greek gynaikos oikia, or woman’s house. Not only have I long been attracted to the sexual parts of flowers, but apparently I’m an etymology geek as well.
Even though I love cities, the natural world still calls me and I’m at my creative best surrounded by natural beauty.
I’ve settled (somewhat) in the Lakes Region of Maine to raise my children. Even though I love cities, the natural world still calls me and I’m at my creative best surrounded by natural beauty. I began gardening on my own after my kids were born and the garden quickly became the only place I had to myself. My photographs started simply as documentations of harvests and particularly interesting sunflowers, but when I got my first iPhone, garden image-making quickly changed. The iPhone is perfect for slipping under a mushroom or catching the glow of sunlight through a finely-haired leaf. I can easily move in close for those killer stamen shots or lie down on the grass to shoot a morning glory blossom framed by the blue sky. Now not only is the garden my personal retreat, but it’s my artist’s studio and lab as well. I choose flower seeds for potential photogenic qualities and leave dead flowers and seed heads on for winter photo ops.
I do find winter more of a challenge because the pickings are fewer and far-between, so I’ve taken to collecting interesting plant parts when I find them. My work station is littered with dried ferns and mushrooms, milkweed pods and silk, and other plant detritus.
The iPhone is perfect for slipping under a mushroom or catching the glow of sunlight through a finely-haired leaf.
If there is good fresh snow on the ground and it’s not too cold out, I’ll shoot directly on the snow because it provides a glow-y but neutral background. But if the natural light is really good, I’ll put found items in my light box and chase the sun around my house with it.
I think at this point in my life, summer has become my favorite season because the photo ops are limitless. I can spend hours in quiet communion with my garden and capturing images has literally turned into my meditation practice. This intense paying attention is the epitome of a mindfulness practice and is, at least during the warm months, an important part of my daily life. The garden provides abundant opportunities in its bounty as well, since most fruits and vegetables I harvest usually spend some time in the light box before I create a dish with them…and yes, cooking is another love of mine.
If the natural light is really good, I’ll put found items in my light box and chase the sun around my house with it.
I enjoy capturing all kinds of images, but I keep going back to plants, both living and dead. They have a simple beauty that speaks to so many profound and universal themes, such as birth and rebirth, death and aging, sexuality and survival. Sometimes I find myself deliberately personifying vegetables (think Edward Weston) or sexualizing flowers (think Georgia O’Keeffe) but for the most part my image-capturing and processing is an ongoing exploration of the animate and sensual forces in nature.