A photographer celebrates summer delights

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 2, 2011

ne of the most delightful pleasures of every summer is the bountiful supply of garden vegetables and fruits. Aside from the nutritional values of these treasures, they are an artistic inspiration to me as a photographer. Many “veggie” photographers use vegetables to create scenes both serious and humorous of vegetable sculptures, puppets and even dancing veggies. This is not my form of artistic inspiration.
I see vegetables as beautiful in all their various shapes, sizes, colors, textures and tones. The orderly rows of seedlings popping up from the red soil are lovely. It is exciting when they first show their green tops crawling out of the soil, much like a new baby entering the world for the first time.
Gardening has become a lost art to some. My grandparents and my father gardened, depending on it to feed the family. Growing up, I was expected, or I should say required, to work in the garden, which is how I learned. Today, I don’t think children have the opportunity to work and learn from the experience and the knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Today, gardening for the first time, you must go to books or a master gardener for advice. The trial and error of the past has diminished. Thanks be to the books and the master gardeners for keeping gardening alive.
Last summer I began a personal photographic project of recording my vegetables and fruits in photos. In honor of spring and summer, I created photo images exploring and depicting the colors, textures, forms, tones and qualities of the vegetables. I don’t pretend to think that my photos are great art, but it is a satisfying creative process. My garden images are inspired by what I grow and the properties of each veggie.
Fats Domino sings of finding his “thrill on Blueberry Hill.” His song has nothing to do with the low fat content in the berries or the high level of antioxidants. He didn’t sing of the vitamin C or high fiber. He was just thrilled on Blueberry Hill.
I supposed I have been thrilled by my own garden. I find myself much like Atlanta artist Delliah Smith, who said, “I create my own world fueled by some inner passion of brave optimism and confidence. … I like to push a subject and embrace its most intriguing features. … Everything interests me, the why, the how, the trivia of it.”
To photograph vegetables, you have to observe the lines and patterns of the subject and be influenced to create photos. Photographer Bryan Peterson writes, “Of the six elements of design — line, shape, form, texture, pattern and color — which is the strongest? Line. Without line there can be no shape, without shape there can be no form, without shape and form there can be no texture. And, without line or shape, there can be no pattern.”
The curvilinear lines of red tomatoes are soft and gentle. I added a grid pattern and studio lights behind and under the tomato. The diagonal lines gave the tomato a feeling of movement and activity. The added diagonal lines help keep the tomato photograph from being so static.
Excitement in the curved, rounded watermelon and cantaloupe come from the bright green, red and yellow color of the melons and the texture of the seeds.
The curved stems of the red beets captured my interest while laying flat on my belly in the middle of my garden. The stems are coarse and wiry and bright red, feeding the red veins in the leaves.
Under studio lights, the shell of a sweet green pea becomes translucent with the round peas tucked inside the shell with its long, restful line along the opening. Asparagus grows in a strong straight line up from the ground. The individual spears look quite independent standing up in the row.
The three or four types of lettuce all have different textures and varying shades of green color from yellow-green to dark bottle green. The characteristic that they have in common is the soft frilly, lace-like curved edges. Spring onions and radishes have long hair-like roots that gather nourishment from the soil like umbilical cords.
Maybe okra is the most fascinating of all the veggies. It grows in the shape of a green spike with seven sides to each pod. The heptagon has seven cells inside with seven seeds stacked the length of the pod. Okra has all the lines of design — diagonal, straight, curvilinear and jagged.
The various colors and shapes of sweet green and hot orange and red peppers contrast with each other. Silver Queen corn is a garden staple, much in demand with the white sweet kernels. Spinach leaves are rich green with a curled, gnarled texture much like the face of the character in the movie “Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Georgia Belle peaches are a white peach inside with a pinkish red and white skin.
Now it’s back to the “not so exciting” and a much “lesser delight of summer.” It’s the part of gardening with hoeing, clearing the grass, picking the vegetables, and freezing or canning the bounties of nature.