A few years ago, at Mount Grace Priory in Yorkshire, several tons of earth were moved during restoration work. Old soil which had not been exposed to the air for centuries was uncovered and the seeds of mediaeval plants, hidden in it 400 years ago, began to grow. Wale, a yellow dye herb, sprang up. We read about this and visited the Priory. I expected to see some rather sad and tired-looking plants, which had germinated half-heartedly and crawled out of the earth. Instead, we found masses of tall, vibrant flower-spikes, blooming, glowing golden, bursting with life – perfectly ready to take their part again in the cycle of creation. The power of the seed was not
diminished in any way by being hidden for so long in the dark ground.
[From Ground and Spring: Foundations of Quaker discipline, by Beth Sharp, pub. Quaker Books 2007]
The writer goes on to comment on the poppies that bloomed in Flanders Field in the First World War, for the same reason. The trenches and shellfire both dug up the fallow ground and as the earth was exposed to light, the poppy seeds dormant there enjoyed just the right conditions for their growth and the battlefields became an unexpected garden.
I’m not a Quaker, I don’t follow any religion. But this spiritual message seems to cover the essence of death or destruction, or decay, and renewal. Something many artists, including photographers, seem to be preoccupied with. I know I am, and if not that, a sense of change, of moments that mark a movement from one mood to another, the point at which the pendulum reaches the highest point, and then turns down again.. The story of the mediaeval flowers struck a chord with the new personal project I am working on. Which is to do with the relationship of transience and permanence, I suppose. On a wider level, of course, the idea of the transience of existence is inseparable from the act of photography - if the intention is to capture and distil a moment in time – the ephemeral nature of all things given an illusion of permanence with the image obtained. Then, the print itself, becoming of-itself and something other than that lost moment, achieving a very real kind of presence and ‘permanence’.
That photographs should last is important to me - as a kind of defiance of the passage of time – as well as at times a preoccupation with death, or decay and renewal. I don’t try to analyse it too much, to think why. But there it is. And reading the above passage makes me want to get on with recording those pictures I know are floating in my head and need to be on film, on paper.