The morning light crests the hill. The birds are singing their spring songs. I have the garden to myself. I take a deep breath, I bend forward. I exhale. I take a deep breath and come back to standing. I take a deep breath and bend at the knees to a crouching position. I breathe and stretch a little further. I exhale and come back to standing. No, I am not practicing yoga in the garden (though that might be nice). I am contorting my body and holding my breath to capture that perfect photo of the March Bank in its full snowdrop glory. I wish I could say that I got the result I was looking for. The truth is that the camera can not fully deliver the experience of seeing something in person. I had what I thought to be the right elements in place; morning light, overcast conditions, multiple angles yet it barely captured what I was seeing.
My husband was a professional photographer in an earlier life and has provided me some tutelage along the way. I set up the scenario of my “yoga shots” and asked him what went wrong. He mentioned a few terms—manually opening the aperature, bracketing, f-stops—things that the average “point and shoot” photographer may not know. Essentially it comes down to the camera’s light meter averaging out all that it was taking in—pure white, reflective flowers on a dark background. The camera “averaged to middle grey”; the end result, a mediocre picture. He went on to sing the praises of the of the human brain; how our eyes are constantly “adjusting the light meters”, continuously sending multiple exposures to our brain and our brain seamlessly puts them together to create the perfect picture and the perfect experience.
I bring up my photographic failure not because I enjoy public humiliation but to emphasize that there is no replacement for the true experience. This is becoming more and more relevant as we enter the instantaneous digital-virtual world of webcams, video, and photography and where one can “tour” a garden or museum over the computer. It is great to be able to type in a few key words and have an image of Van Gogh’s Starry Night magically appear on the computer screen but it is no substitution for the real thing; looking closely at the brush strokes and then stepping back and seeing the image that is created and the emotion that is evoked at that moment.
Gardens by their nature, in close alliance with sporadic weather, consistently create a certain “viewing urgency” similar to the final days of an art exhibition. Friday’s unseasonable temperatures in the 70’s pushed a lot of things into flower and a lot of things out of flower. If you missed the large sweeps of snowdrops this year then mark it on your calendar for 2012. If you want to see the March Bank in its “blue phase”, the period when the entire hillside transforms into a blue oasis, then plan on a visit this week and if you can swing it, visit at different times of the day. The mood of the March Bank changes dramatically between the rising and setting of the sun. The continuous movement and intensity of the sunlight plays off of the rolling nature of the hillside, creating shadows and depth of color in some spaces while highlighting other locations. Like the Van Gogh painting, a great amount of detail can be viewed from up close—variations in flowers and in foliage color, but the view from afar is pure drama. Blue is another color that is difficult to truly capture through the lens; it often can appear more purple in color than what our eyes see. I have witnessed the March Bank in this performance role for 20 years now and no two experiences are alike. One year the effect lasted for 3 weeks, one year it hardly even made an appearance and one year I witnessed the blue at near sunset and it was electric; this is the moment where I remember the drama and emotion. I am confident that the lens could not have captured that…