Sheltering in place in my garden during the pandemic, I made photographs to convey the revelation of hidden wholeness we experience when we cultivate silence.
I want to portray my sense of enclosure and stability, the feeling of drift and movement, and then the emergence into the light of a meditative universe when the textured veil lifts. I want to share visuals of beauty and the possibility of new beginnings.
Photographing the garden that I lent a hand to creating, consoled me during months of pandemic isolation with my husband, Bill and my Labradoodle, Sabai. Making photographs of the incredibly still yet very alive garden brought quiet pleasure. Planning to share my images gave me purpose.
Perhaps, I came to know myself and how I connect to the wholeness of life with greater clarity by isolating for months in our safe green spaces. I was able to experience the present more deeply and merge in holy silence with the moods of the seasons.
I share my work in these transformed times with the hope that it might offer a reflective path to transcendence.
Wintering In Spring
Humanity was stowed away in March of 2020. To keep us safe from the contagion, we had to withdraw from the world and step into solitude. Unnaturally, as spring arrived, we were thrust into hibernation, made invisible by masks and distanced from others, we survived the lengthening days and increasing public health challenges by cocooning at home. In my case, being home meant a long spell of belonging in the tropical garden.
Agapanthus bloom in spring in Florida. Grounded, their blue and white sheathed heads rise bursting open to greet the airy orchids drifting above from the Ligustrum’s shady arms. Hearing the still, sad music of humanity suffering outside my garden walls, nature consoled me within. Bay breezes played palm frond melodies as gardenia and magnolia scents filled the air. Bananas ripened, oleander spilling over the garden wall beckoned escape with poisonous beauty.
Soon we knew that the breath thief also snatched senses: taste and smell. The Carolina Jasmin smelled sweeter as a daily tester of Covid’s reach. Memories of better days rode in on the fragrance and each evening’s scent release was reassurance that we’d made it through the day. Ripe apple bananas came in quick, huge bunches to distribute to neighbors so they too could taste and tell that they were doing fine.
By late May, when restrictions lifted, as masked sojourners, we headed north to our Cape Cod cottage. Quarantined again, we sheltered among the woodland rhododendron awaiting summer’s song. Places changed, isolation continued, as if geography were erased and our garden was bound by four imaginary walls of a monastic enclosure.
Drought accompanied the pandemic summer as if to say the flow of life will be stilled this year. Watering early most mornings to quiet the crying trees, I would hear Mary Oliver’s mournful Summer Day question, “Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?” Not the peonies, hydrangeas and lilies please. I need them this year. Quenching their thirst was salve to my own. In their refreshment, I hoped to bring back normality.
Flowers were a life support that summer. Some spilled out of the darkened borderland beyond which we rarely, and only masked, trespassed. Others twisted toward the light, air and life, escaping the darkness of desiccated foliage and inspiring us to keep on going on. The world is not beyond repair they seem to say. Unexpected ideas, images came as nature bathed me with her creative breath.
I know now that the lens does point both ways. As I was changed by the pandemic, my image making was too. My sense of self dissolved into the wholeness of the garden. Apart but not alone, I felt how I was being affected by the disconnection of quarantine. I made photographs of hydrangea and saw Cassiopeia. I beheld the tension of what is, was and could be in a remarkable rose.
The garden’s hidden order was revelatory. Yes. There is a dance and we humans are part of a connected kinetic sculpture that moves through space. Lonely by required distance from others during the summer of contagion, the personal space for perception of our relatedness grew. The threshold between the invisible and visible worlds seemed more porous, the birdsong stronger as the streets emptied of people and fragrant lilies carried the scent of loss.
Shade deepens over shade. Shorter days in a longer season of illusive beauty pass in the garden. Impermanence tangles with steadfastness as leaves fall and seeds set. We are reminded that life and death are not contradictory; but, rather a single process to be embraced as a whole. Advised not to travel because waves of Covid wash across the land, we settle in to cherish New England’s autumn because it cannot last. And, we must.
There is joy in the fiery colors of autumn. Ochre and red leaves are safe flames that never still. They change daily, rising, falling, and finally snuggling as they blanket the cooling earth below. The dying blossom has her art too.
Hydrangea, roses, clematis hold on to naked branches with dramatic flourish even as their petals fade with age and fall. Tenacious vintage divas to the end, they transfer energy from petal to root to live another season. Contradicting all appearances, their fragility is an illusion belied by time.
Harvest festivals are muted in this pandemic autumn. Grapes wither on the vine, lonely pumpkins feed the animals in the field. Wistfully, we express gratitude for all that we have; marred by a tinge of foreboding. How do we calculate the unforeseen? Under Libra’s sign, how to we keep our balance now months into this disruptive year of life upended?
Perhaps it serves to be reminded by Junichiro Tanizaki that were it not for shadows there would be no beauty. Our doors open to the garden darkness as winter comes.
Winter brought more separation. Trees suddenly seemed lonely, their noble canopies silhouetted against a grey sky. Their long shadows stretched across the freckled snow. Naked, they revealed their blemishes, cuts and bruises: lives well-lived over seasons past. Unembellished by flower or leaf, color or scent they stand in bare boned truth. Seen closely, there are buds quietly awaiting spring.
Stones reveal themselves in winter. Solid, impenetrable, opaque, glacial boulders shoulder the undulating garden landscape blanketed by snow. Stone is massive matter holding the tension between memory and transience. What have they imbibed from the more ephemeral life forms growing and blowing around them? Knowing millennia they stand witness to the round dance of life.
Wind increases its presence in winter. It howls. It bites. It carries the sound of icy snow crunching under foot. The cold, crisp air filled with new smells for Sabai to inhale in wonder. Mesmerized she stands on deck high nose twitching in awareness of a world I can only imagine.
Winter blues are not all sad. Light reflected off of the snow by winter sun creates a crisp bokeh bathing the muted seed heads remaining with brilliant light. The year turns as we follow the gaining blue light into spring.
Comes The Rain
Under the gaining light in this second pandemic spring, hope rises. The invitation to happiness drops from the sky, illuminating a latticework of branches overhead. The natural scaffold casts lacy shadows across the glacial boulders below. Blossoms of light in silhouette grace solid stone. Detached pearlescent petals float into communion with granite facets reflected in the sunlight. For a moment, the solid and impermanent merge into eternal unity.
Breathe in the light. Breath means so much more a year on from the arrival of Covid. Breathe out the darkness. Stowed away for more than a year, I feel nourished and centered in the stillness and silence of my safe green space. Vaccinated now, I’m ready to walk into my worlds remade by the breath thief who stalks among us still. Let’s get our bearings. Read the universal map. Come along into the light. It’s safer now.
I make images to share hope. I would like to interpret the transition from the “pause” into the resumption of the dance of life, and, into the new revelation of life’s value. It is time to rediscover and reevaluate where we, who have changed, find ourselves on land that has changed too. Nature can teach us, heal us, reveal the inner coherence of the place where we are. We are there now.
The images I share here offer hope by giving witness to splendor. I aim to unveil beauty through abstraction. The panes, streaks and washes of light offer fragmentary reflection of the glory of spring. Reframing the representation of reality through movement, collage and color shifts, I invite the viewer to let loose her tight grasp on a single valid reality. There are reordered possibilities in all that has changed.
Spring comes slowly in New England. Suspended between seasons, the attenuated unfolding often begins in clearings in a beige woods punctuated by light. Patches of forsythia, forgotten deciduous azalea, quince and daffodil suddenly fill the eye with color. Grand specimen trees stand sentry to spring in private gardens and public spaces. One by one, they command attention by unveiling their bloom: magnolia, cherry, dogwood. Unleafed, their visible steadfast architecture showcases our new arising.
In this second pandemic spring, more than ever before we must live by hope. I hope my photography contributes to escaping the surface where we dwell most of the time. May my images help recover in you a memory or an intuition of what is attainable in our reordered worlds. Finally, as the fifteenth month of the pandemic closes, the long awaited cleansing rain arrives to wash us with kindness preparing us to go out again. Reborn.
These images have been produced on gold or silver brushed aluminium or on HD dye sublimated aluminum as individual works of art. They are available from the Mirella Cimato Gallery at the St. Petersburg Opera through October 2021. Mirella Cimato: (727) 543-9190 firstname.lastname@example.org