Allotment watch

By Robin Stewart

Back in September last year, Simon agreed to let me make a series of images of your allotments. This project was part of my BA hons photography 2nd year module – Landscape. My assignment 5 brief was to produce a body of work that explores a particular place, type of space or theme relating to landscape practice. Part of my original project proposal is below:

It is widely recognised that gardening is good for our mental health as well as physical.  Research concludes that as little as 30 minutes a week spent on an allotment provides both mental and physical health benefits. Approximately 50% of the world population and 70% of the population of Europe live in urban areas. This is associated with an increase in mental ill-health. Less green space = levels of higher stress and an increase in obesity. 1 in 4 adults suffer from a mental illness each year. Allotments provide a public space way from home that are useful for not only fresh food production, but also inculcate people relationships as well as a relationship with the land.

I will make a series of photographs on local allotments. At this stage these will be still life – quiet moments in the life of an allotment. Photographs that provide a sense of peace and mindfulness. 

Research is centred around The National Allotment Society, and a paper published by Oxford Academic in the Journal of Public Health. 

This work has now been marked by my tutor and the response was very positive. Ten images have also been reviewed by Lens Culture who had this to say:

 “Your photographs have a beautiful, soft color palette. The compositions have a wonderful sense of detail that floats through the series. There isn’t anything fussy in capturing what makes up the imagery. You have a collection that also feels well considered in variety of images, from closer more intimate images to those pulled back that give context. The photographs express a space of quiet and calm.

I would consider submitting the work to a number of different platforms to get more eyes on it. From traditional platforms like The Guardian to advocacy organizations for future work. Plant Journal and Pleasure Garden are two publications that come to mind. Additionally, The Garden Edit’s website features work related to the place of gardens of all kinds in our lives. Your work has a specific subject but the beauty of it is the broadness of its appeal. The calming / healing / quiet, the purpose one finds in a garden are all aspects that touch across different swaths of society. This is a lovely, relevant series and I wish you all the best as you finish your studies and share the work further.”

This project will be on the National Allotment Society website soon, their Facebook page and, I will be the featured artist in their quarterly magazine – spring addition.

These photographs were made using a 1955 Minolta Autocord twin lens reflex camera and medium format Kodak Portra film. Self-developed and then scanned.

There is a spoken artist statement on the first slide – feel free to skip to the next slide if you wish! Best viewed full screen.

Finally, I would like to extend this work. If anyone has a few moments to talk to me about how allotment gardening makes them feel – the benefits you get from it, I would love to hear from you ( I’d like to take a photograph of you on your allotment too – if you don’t mind. Nothing will be shared without your permission.

There is a second project you may like to look at too, assignment 6 – Transitions. Brief:

Produce a series of images that responds to the idea of ‘transitions’ within the landscape. Work on this assignment throughout the course. Record the changes that a part of the landscape undergoes over an extended period of time. You may want to revisit a very specific view or you may choose to explore a particular part of the landscape more intuitively. 

You may wish to photograph at very specific intervals (monthly, weekly, or even daily) or your routine may develop by other means. The quantity of work that you submit will depend on your particular strategy.

When completed, the assignment should address the notion that the landscape is an evolving, dynamic system. You may wish to confirm, question or subvert this assertion.

Your assignment should be accompanied with a reflective commentary (minimum 300 words) on how your project developed and how or whether it has affected your ideas around landscape.

This work is here:

Best viewed full screen, and you’ll be pleased to hear, much shorter than assignment 5! These images are all digital photographs.

About the Author

Robin Stewart is a photographer, living in Oakham and currently studying towards a BA hons in photography with the Open College of the Arts. Subject matter will vary according to coursework briefs. Food related work has been a favourite in the past with success in the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the year competition each year since 2013. Camera collecting is becoming a bit of a problem with three digital cameras and four film cameras – the oldest of which is 90 years old, and still working! In his spare time (that’s a joke!) Robin also owns, and teaches at, Rutland Cookery School.