Kathryn Oliver | Photography

Wild Garden Of Childhood

Archival Pigment Prints - Limited Edition

Wild Garden Of Childhood 

 

As a gardener I know that the wildest part of the garden is also the most fertile for planting seeds. I am reminded of this each season as I turn the dark, rich and sweet smelling compost into the soil, whose origin of rotting kitchen scraps and animal manure remain secretly encoded within each molecule. Through soil preparation, seed planting and the balance of rain and sunlight, the miracle of fruitfulness emerges.

 

I began making photographs about childhood as my son grew out of his. That once curious child who had spent summers barefoot, smiling, exploring the woods and climbing to the tops of trees seemed to all but disappear. 

 

A flood of memories came up for me. Both, of him as a little boy and many of my own early impressions. I felt called to explore an introspective side to childhood. Perhaps there were clues hidden in those early years we all shared.

 

I didn’t know what that would look like or what this quest was really about but in the photo world there is a saying, “Every portrait is a self portrait.” When I edited my first image, “Primo’s pigs”  I thought to myself, “WOW, I know this feeling, you know the one — You put on your best party dress, show up to life and all you find are these indifferent pigs.” 

 

There was a poignant absurdity to it all, so I kept taking pictures and like for Alice, going down into the rabbit hole, It got “curiouser and curiouser.” The camera became a mini theater where ordinary objects could become strange and magical. But I was also reminded of the everyday world that none of us are impervious to, where vulnerability and loss are first realized. 

 

As every parent knows, children don’t spend all their time laughing and playing but are often introspective or startlingly attuned to the goings on of the outer world. These were the images that intrigued me most and like puzzle pieces I began to assemble them. With each one, I thought about the power of make believe in childhood and our affinity with the elemental world. How this can silently slip away without ceremony, as we grow. Perhaps leaving a hole too easily filled with it’s opposite. 

 

I thought about my son’s descent into chaos and the transformed mature young man he has now become. Like a beach stone whose rough edges are tumbled and smoothed by the sea and then as if summoned in silence, reflect back the glistening sun. I thought about my own journey as an artist and what the modern dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham said about creativity. That it comes from a “divine dissatisfaction” a “blessed unrest” That keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” And underneath it all I thought about the seemingly insoluble problems of the world that our children are inheriting and wonder how and where will they find the wisdom to guide them? 

 

In my garden, life emerges, transforms, decays, dies and renews. Reminding me that chaos and order are inescapably intertwined. And that each year, rogue seeds from plants long gone “gift” themselves into the most extraordinary places. After three years of making these photographs, I think this is what I was looking for, that the most precious of stories are stored away - somewhere in the wild garden of childhood and as the poet Gary Snyder said, “… dormant as a hard-shelled seed, awaiting the fire or flood that awakens it again.”

Intertwined PHOTO ENCAUSTIC SERIES
Photography combined with beeswax and oil pigments
NATURE FORCES
Archival pigment prints limited edition.

Intertwined -- Nature Forces

 

 

Intertwined (beeswax and oil pigments) and Nature Forces (archival pigment prints) are a kind of “theatrical play” where I explore my kinship and affinity with nature. Created at a time when I was reading through the works of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and drawing inspiration and solace from his words. 

 

I began carrying around my camera, tripod and some vintage dresses and hadn’t planned to use myself as the subject of my pictures but what can I say … sometimes it’s easier when inspiration hits to rely on a participant who is always available.

 

“Earth, isn’t this what you want? To arise in us, invisible?

Is it not your dream, to enter us so wholly

there’s nothing left outside us to see?

 

What, if not transformation,

is your deepest purpose? Earth, my love,

I want it too. Believe me,

no more of your springtimes are needed

to win me over 

 

— even one flower

is more than enough.” 

 

— Rilke, From the Ninth Duino Elegy