Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Great Chalfield Manor

The weather forecast said ‘cloudy all day’… but the sun shone this morning. Just the way I like it too: through broken cloud, which, when pushed along by a steady breeze, as it is today, changes every composition in the space of a few seconds (sometimes just a fraction of a second). With the camera mounted on a tripod, I can lock in my chosen composition… and just see what happens within that rectangular picture area. Something is lit, then falls into shadow as the sun picks out something else. People enter the composition, interact with the property and each other, then make their exit, like actors on a Shakespearean stage. I hold the infra-red shutter release in my hand, with my thumb on the button… so I’m ready whatever may happen. It the scene is slightly theatrical, it’s largely unscripted, or, like some Pinter play, the actors may be told to improvise.

Gardens do seem to have a staged quality of inventive artifice, with nature bent to the houseowner’s will. I’m in the gardens of Great Chalfield Manor, in Wiltshire, where bushes are trimmed into geometric shapes, cut to allow garden paths to go straight through. Other plants are trained to create bowers and tunnels. Flowers are restrained in their beds and borders. Nature has to serve a grand idea and be orderly, malleable, supordinate; Nature must know its place. The saving grace, for me, is that these particular gardens are not too grand; they’re on a human scale, with the formal elements softened by their proximity to a river that flows along the bottom of the garden, with a pair of swans in residence and woodland on the opposite bank.

I took plenty of pix. Three people sit on a bench, surrounded by flowers, so I asked if I could take a few pix. If people are just part of a composition - walking in and out, I don’t generally ask permission. But if the people are the picture’s main subject, I think it’s only politeness. About once a year, someone says “Don’t take my picture”, but most people are fine. I told these three people they looked “perfect”; a little flattery is a useful camera accessory. I gave them my card; if they email me I’ll send them the best pic of the bunch…

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