What We Want
Photography changes our relationship to gardens and plants
Irene Jeruss, garden photographer, explains how photographs can capture evanescent beauty and create desire.
It wasn’t until I began wanting to record the ephemeral beauty that I witnessed in my fledgling garden that I became passionate about the potential of photography. When the tight buds of the roses began to burst, their sunny disposition colored both the garden and my mood. Finally—after months of back breaking work, heaving stone after stone out of the rocky New England soil in order to plant a garden—I was able to forget about the struggle to coax beauty out of the barren rock ledge we lived on. I fell in love with the flowers that blossomed as a result of my efforts. The roses, lilacs, lamb’s ears, and the peonies with their big, fluffy, exuberant flowers made my heart sing. I loved seeing each plant, in its turn, come into season.
Unlike a painting that lives on indefinitely in its finished form, the challenge and art of gardening is that a garden never stops changing. Wanting to capture these fleeting garden moments, I turned to photography as a way to hold onto the beauty that I’d witnessed. What I most wanted to capture in my first garden were not literal botanical details, but the beauty of the scene, the way it made me feel, what it was like to actually be there. I understood that through photography, I’d be able to share my experience, and that realization turned out to be a defining moment in my life. I left a professional career in marketing and was fortunate to be able to spend the time necessary to learn about making and marketing stock photography while I cared for my children and home.
After working independently as a freelance garden photographer for many years, I am now staff photographer and photo editor for White Flower Farm, a national mail order nursery. In my work, I sincerely try to record a garden scene so it will elicit the same response I felt when I first experienced it. Sometimes, people object that I’ve deliberately removed bugs, dead leaves, or spent flowers as if, somehow, unless the photograph is journalistic it can’t be truthful. I am frequently asked if my images are Photoshopped or retouched in any way. Most every professional photographer shooting digitally today is working in “raw” mode for digital capture. This requires that post-production work be done in some digital imaging software program; it is the equivalent of what darkroom work was in the film era.
When I was working with film, it was essential to do all the grooming, before taking the photograph. Now, I will edit out a blemish on a leaf or flower in Photoshop that I wished I’d noticed in my viewfinder when I was shooting. Sometimes, I’ll remove some other distracting element, like a telephone pole or ugly electrical lines. But I will never alter the essential photograph. I will not add blossoms or make colors more vivid than they are in real life. I object to manipulation that is the equivalent of lying; my truth is this—if there is beauty that I sense and see, then that is what I want to record and reveal.
Artistic photographs of plants and gardens have economic as well as aesthetic value. They can create a desire for a garden of one’s own and that desire has the potential to lead to increased sales of products used in creating or enhancing gardens. At White Flower Farm, photography is central to our work and business. We hope to inspire customers to see, learn about, and want to buy the plants we offer in order to create their own vision of a beautiful garden. The plants we sell are young and full of unrealized potential, so, it is essential that we show what each plant can look like when it reaches its full potential.
Buying mail order means that customers buy our plants sight unseen. Therefore photography becomes key to suggesting or communicating the shape, scale, and form of mature plants. In my work, communicating subtle and accurate color is particularly important because I understand that these plants will become the brush strokes of color in a garden design plan. At White Flower Farm, we try very hard to show our products as accurately as the constraints of printing on paper or the technology of computer screens will allow.
Through photography, I’ve been able to share the beauty that I’ve witnessed and inspire others to create their own vision of garden beauty. In that sense, photography encourages us to reach for more—to create our own art. Photographic images broaden our knowledge of gardening and landscaping, and shape and change our perceptions of what has been and what is possible. Photographs inform and inspire us and preserve an art form that inherently vanishes as soon as it exists.
- Cottage Garden, White Flower Farm, Litchfield, CT
- Irene Jeruss