Seeing Gardens, by Sam Abell

Gardens are everywhere. Some people have the eye to see them, some don’t.

In Seeing Gardens, Sam Abell, a famous National Geographic photographer whom I admire, presents a collection of quiet and intense photographs of various gardens he saw over 40 years of his travels for the magazine. Some pictures are not literally gardens, but they capture the spirit of a garden in ordinary surroundings.

Consciously or subconsciously, it’s the book that inspired me to start a set called Gardens on my Flickr photoblog. Go ahead and see that set — it’s got a mishmash of pictures that all evoke gardens.

In the book, Abell talks about the background behind some of his most powerful photographs, including the famous haunting picture of pears behind a veil on the windowsill of his hotel room overlooking the Kremlin.

He also talks about his entry into a Japanese garden, and remarking to his host that he felt its serene calming influence. Upon which his host replied that the garden they were standing in was six hundred years old!

Abell was from a previous generation of photographers, the Kodachrome era (today would be the Lightroom era, I guess). He specialized in making quiet photographs. In one account of his work, I read that his initial pictures for National Geographic were criticized as being quiet. Instead of changing his style, he intensified it by taking that feeling of quiet even deeper in his pictures.

The colors in his work aren’t loud Velvia colors. They are muted shades that speak in soft, hushed tones. The same goes for his portrayal of people; more than fast action, there is a sense of quiet.

I highly recommend this book for photographers.

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