Where are all the people?

Bonsai paparazzo

Julie, who authors the daily journal, Human Flower Project, recently commented:
It interests (and surprises) me that there are so FEW photos of people in the garden. Any idea why?
She went on to write her own post on this topic:

One might say that since gardens—and photographs, too—are men’s, women’s and children’s creations, they embody a kind of humanism. It just takes a penetrating eye to see the human mind at work in a glorious perennial border or a well-framed foxglove. That’s surely so. But gardens are both by and FOR people, so why are do so few of the Brooklyn Garden’s visitors show us what people are doing there, how they interact with this glorious environment? The same holds true in most gardening magazines and websites. Among the many that feature fine photos of home, public and commercial gardens, one rarely sees a hand pruning or a vagrant snoozing. Why is this?

I hadn't responded yet to Julie's comment when I read her post today. So this is my response.

I know I've contributed just a handful of photos to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitors pool with people in them. I've included a few of them in this post. Most of my photos don't have people in them. I have some ideas why that might be.

Often the people I end up photographing are other photographers. Why? Because they're in the way of my shot! Making lemons from lemonade (or something), they become the subject, or at least part of the composition.


More often, people are are incidental to the shot, or unavoidable, so I include them anyway.

Entrance to the Native Flora Garden, April 2007
Entrance to the Native Flora Garden

Most rarely for my photographs, people are the subject.

Alessandro Chiari, BBG's Chief Propagator, And Titan Arum "Baby", August 2006

Mark Fisher and Titan Arum "Baby"
Mark Fisher and Titan Arum "Baby"

Forsythia handouts, April 2007
Forsythia Handouts

I'm not generally a sociable person. I'm bad with names, faces, and people. I've never been comfortable photographing people. There are so many great faces and characters in New York City, I wouldn't know where to begin photographing them. Not to mention I avoid confrontation. A telephoto lens helps.

Lily Pool Terrace, November 2005
Lily Pool Terrace

Anyone is welcome to join the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitors group and contribute photos of the gardens. I also actively search for photos of the garden and invite their contribution, especially from folks who are not already members of the group and don't know about it yet. There's no formula for what I look for. But one of the criteria is "unusualness": an unusual perspective of a well-photographed site, or an ephemeral moment.

I think part of the reason why there are so few photos with people in them is that they are not usually the subject of the photo. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is located in a dense urban area and gets a lot of visitors. We don't normally go to a garden to see other people. For example, the Cherry Blossom Festival at BBG is packed with thousands of people. So a photo of cherry trees in full bloom, without a soul in sight, is unusual!

1 comment:

Da Nator said...

I think you make some good points. I would also imagine that when people go to the garden, they are doing so to have a bit of an escape from the city, including the crowds. (I know I am, which is why I don't go to the cherry blossom festival anymore.) To turn the focus on the other people would be to break the mental wall that one builds to try to enjoy the garden as a composition of plants, without the interference of others.

Besides, it's hard to get an interesting photo of people in such settings. They're usually milling, which does not make for an exciting shot.

I also have trouble taking photos of people, for some of the same reasons you state. It's interesting - often it seems as though the photographers that like taking pictures of objects or places are a different camp from those who do photography of people. Maybe it says something fundamental about the personality of each group?