by Sharon Boothroyd
From Gardening at Night by Cig Harvey
When Cig Harvey’s latest book Gardening at Night arrived from Schilt Publishing I was so immediately pulled in by the strength and vibrancy of the images that I was a little wary of being seduced. So I had a quick flick, and waited a few days until I had the time to devote to it, to scrutinise it and enjoy it. I found that it was not just a visual punch but that among the striking imagery where written stories. I always find the relationship between image and text a powerful one and this book brings its own variation to this compelling duo. Some photo books rely on the text to tell the story while the images illustrate, some rely on the images while the text illustrates, some have two separate conversations going on and some have a push and pull dynamic and some, like Harvey’s, have equal footing. While reading I felt like I was suspended somewhere between a teenage novel and a mother’s world. The ambiguity both drew me in and left me wondering. I asked Cig more about this process below.
Sharon Boothroyd: When did you first know that you wanted to tell this story?
Cig Harvey: Well my first book, You Look at Me Like an Emergency, explored stories
around finding and defining home. Gardening at Night grew out of that
work and is about creating a life where you are. It’s an exploration
of home, family, nature, and time.
You include a breadth of image styles in this project which I really
enjoyed. From constructed, studio-style shots to more natural,
documentary work, with recurrent and diverse subject matter such as
nature, darkness, night, indoors, outdoors… How do you bring these
elements together in a cohesive way within the narrative structure? What do
these different aspects mean to you?
Thanks. I always say that I like to make pictures about things, not of
things, and I try to avoid drawing from only one genre or subject
matter. For me, the story is always the most important element and all
the formal concerns of light, frame, style are all in support of that
The book is a combination of caught, found and made. I’ve always been
both a finder and constructor. Sometimes I obsess over an image
I want to make and it can take years to get the right light and
atmosphere. Other times I find a picture. When that happens it always
feels like a magical gift.
Do you always carry your camera with you?
Yes, I always have a camera with me. If I am planning a shoot in a more
constructed way, I use a bigger camera and carry more equipment. But I
always have some sort of camera in my bag just in case.
Where did the text originate? Did you write it especially for the
book or was it from journals or other sources?
The text from my first book, You Look at me Like an Emergency, grew out
of my journals. I had always written as a way to access ideas and
imagery but had never planned to publish the words. Bringing text and
images together in Emergency, I realized how they both brought something
different to the table. I loved that addition and wanted to foster that
collaboration further in Gardening At Night, so I wrote the text knowing
it would be shown with the images.
I actually don’t really think about that balance. When I am writing I
try to get out of the way of myself. I actually lean my body to the left
and look up to the right when I write. A little odd I know. I try to
write and make pictures from the heart. If I think I have written
something worthwhile it typically rings honest to me. With my pictures I
am drawn to a truthful idea, but I try to visually play while I am
shooting, and that often leads to ambiguity, which I am ok with. In
fact, that is possibly the strength in some of these pictures.
The book is an important aspect of this project although it also
exists as a gallery installation. What do you look for in a book? What
does it bring that a gallery show doesn’t? What do you look for in a
designer and how does this collaboration best work out?
I love the narrative structure of a book. Gardening is very much a story
from start to finish. It is sequenced in multiple ways: visually, by
season, and by Scout’s age.
I think the best collaborations are when everyone does what they do
best and feels a sense of ownership in the work. Deb Wood, the designer
of both my books is a really talented artist with a strong vision and an
authentic voice. I love working with her.
I am inspired by everyday life and trying to make what I see as visually
poetic as possible. Essentially, I am making photographs as a way to
remember and slow down my experience of the world. It is my way of not
forgetting. The photograph is evidence.
I am also inspired by how work grows over a number of years. How making
things most days adds up to a life’s work.
What continues to inspire you if / when you have been discouraged?
Just the simple act of making pictures. I really just love making
pictures and seeing the way the camera records things differently than
my eyes. Photography itself is never discouraging, all it does, is give.
What advice would you give a discouraged photographer / artist?
Get your head down and go make something you love.
Cig Harvey’s books and photographs have been widely exhibited and remain in the permanent collections of major museums and collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine; and the International Museum of Photography and Film at the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York. She was recently nominated for the John Gutmann fellowship and a finalist of the BMW Prize at Paris Photo and the Prix Virginia, an international photography prize for women. Cig had her first solo museum show at the Stenersen Museum in Oslo, Norway, in the spring of 2012 in conjunction with the release of her monograph, You Look At Me Like An Emergency (Schilt Publishing, 2012). Cig’s devotion to visual storytelling has lead to innovative international campaigns and features with New York Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar Japan, Kate Spade, and Bloomingdales. Cig also teaches workshops and regularly speaks on her work and processes at institutions around the world.