March 1, 2014
Review of The Garden at Orgeval
Strand, Paul. The Garden at Orgeval. New York: Aperture, 2012. Print.
I have never reviewed a book on art until now, so all of you artists, art critics, and art aficionados, beware! The book The Garden at Orgeval, contains forty photographs taken by Paul Strand at his home garden in Orgeval, a small village outside of Paris. Paul and his wife Ethel moved there in 1955. Paul died in 1976. He took the photographs in the last ten to fifteen years of his life. In this book, his work dates from 1957 to 1974.
Strand’s photographs are titled and dated simply, for example, “Crocuses and Primroses, 1957,” or “From Hazel’s Window, 1972.” Therefore, the text in the book enhances the simplicity of the prints. At the same time, the photographs are detailed and textured—they are all macro lens shots of flowers, limbs, a nest, an apple, trees, stalks, leaves, all in various seasons. When I look at them, they are so close that I’ve an urge to watch my step so as not to disturb the plants.
I’m close enough to blow on the bachelor buttons so that they go flying like dandelion fluff. Or I can just walk down the driveway, clearing the brush out from in front of me.
What’s interesting to me is that though the photographs are detailed, I do not spot an ant, a bee, a fly, or a mouse. How can that be, when even the dirt is so clear, and I can see the beads of water on the leaves? Perhaps French gardens are more pest-free than our own here in America. Since there are no blurry pictures, a bee is hard to miss… How does this man use black and white film and still manage to fill it with color? There must be some technical term for his ability to create browns, greys, blacks, creams, and whites. And why do I sometimes see his images as green? Is it a photography trick or my eye’s own ability to throw color onto an object that it already defines as green? Like the leaves—I’m sure they are green!
Why are these photographs important? Because they document how beautiful just a tiny part of our earth can be. Because they showcase the amazing eye of a gifted photographer. Because they tell the story of an artist in his last years, choosing what is most important to him as he says farewell to his environment and to his craft.
Please come and look at this book. Better yet, check The Garden at Orgeval out, get in your most comfortable chair, and reflect on the photographs for a while. Perhaps you will see the color green. Or maybe you’ll spot a creature. What I know you’ll see is a striking collection of beauty.