Amanda Harman is a photographer born in Sussex, UK, now based in the south west of England. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in Photography at UWE Bristol and continues to work on personal projects. She has used her photographic skills to work on a range of commissions, residencies and projects for galleries, museums, and commercial clients. While her first book A Fluid Landscape was recently published by Another Place Press, we’ll take a look at her series Garden Stories.
How did you get interested in photography and why did you pick photography as a medium and form of expression?
I was given an Olympus OM10 for my eighteenth birthday and that is where the passion for photography began. Then, in 1984 I saw the Josef Koudelka exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, and I was captivated by the magical and ethereal quality of the Gypsies series and the power of photography to communicate a story with such emotion, passion and power. I went on to study for a degree in photography and some years later an MA in photography at LCC.
Introduce us to your series Garden Stories
This series of unintended or ‘accidental’ still-lives, were made around the gardens and outbuildings of an English country house, and seek to make visible the unseen and often unsung work of the gardeners. I find my photography is often about revealing the hidden or unexpected stories of the people and places I encounter and that the most successful of these projects is where I have a personal connection with the place or the people or both.
“I was seeking to embody the gardener’s labours and to reveal the unseen stories of the gardens, and those who tend them”.
It was this personal connection which inspired me to make these photographs of the gardens at Tyntesfield.
Your photographs embody the gardener’s labours & life of gardens, what motivated you to create this project?
I first encountered the gardens as a volunteer, working in the cut flower garden for a year alongside the other gardeners. Later, I was drawn back to the gardens to make pictures of my experiences there. Initially I wanted to explore the ‘behind the scenes’ work of the gardeners, and to do this by making a series of portraits. Whilst I was looking for locations, I started to notice some intriguing ‘still-lives’ of potted plants, ladders and discarded clothes and tools left lying around. I felt photographing these details added to the story of the people working in the garden. The more I looked, the more I noticed these things, as well as the small changes that happened over time. The jacket hanging on one side on the door then the other, the radio moved here and there, plants, pruned, wrapped, and cut down. And for me, more than the portraits, it was these ‘still lives’ that spoke most eloquently of the hidden work of the gardeners.
Tell us about the story of this specific garden and what makes it special?
With its particular sense of place, the historic buildings still in daily use and the connections to the past histories of the garden, there were many hidden stories to bring to light. It was often accidental finds that led me to new discoveries and ideas. On one visit I found a small vase of lily of the valley in the potting shed and made of a photograph of it, lit by the window light diffused through layers of dust and cobweb. Looking at the photograph later, I was reminded that the flowers in the kitchen gardens are grown for cutting. They are gathered by volunteers and taken to the scullery to be arranged in vases and placed in the house. The flowers from the gardens appear in this different setting as another embodiment of the gardener’s labours, and so I made my way to the house for a few weeks to photograph the flowers in this grand domestic setting. By uncovering the small signs of the day to day – the tending of plants, their protection from insects, disease and weather; the nurturing of seedlings and tender plants in the glasshouses, the harvesting, drying and storing of crops, and the gathering of flowers to be arranged and placed in the house I was seeking to embody the gardener’s labours and to reveal the unseen stories of the gardens, and those who tend them.
What are your current projects?
My first book A Fluid Landscape, has recently been published by Another Place Press, and I am currently researching venues for a future exhibition of the series. I have also recently moved to an area of the country that was once a centre for the woollen and weaving industries in Gloucestershire. I am currently working on a project that will trace the evidence of this industry in the present-day landscape and have started researching, walking and exploring, using the camera to record some initial ideas which I will be sharing on Instagram (@amharmanphoto).
Discover her projects on her website.