Tag Archives: school garden

Beyond the Still

I love to take photos of things.  Collections of things.  Seemingly random things.  Sometimes I notice people looking, trying to figure out what it is that I am photographing.

Still life.  Where does that label come from?  Is a bowl of fruit really a “still life?”  But when I take a photo of a collection of inanimate things, I call it a still life.  Does it freeze a moment when you might imagine life paused?  Or maybe the “things” actually have a life of their own?

The school garden is one of my favorite places.  Not because I am a gardener.  I am an avid photographer of gardens, but kind of a “fair-weather” gardener.  But I love the idea of gardens and I love the outdoor learning space of school gardens.  I love spaces where kids can uncover bugs, dig in the dirt, write in the shade of trees, hang out for a while under the influence of nature.

The garden was pure respite for my students and me this year with all the COVID restrictions.  We pulled weeds, found the world’s largest carrot–forgotten when school closed the previous spring–sowed seeds, and wrote.  My hit-and-miss gardening style meant the weeds were always back with a vengeance when we returned to the garden weeks after our previous visit.  I was honestly relieved when our garden teacher was able to return to campus and spend weekly time with the kids doing some actual gardening.  

And the beauty of it all was that I could spend time with the kids in the garden doing the things I love best: noticing nature, writing under the influence with the breeze in our faces and dirt under our feet, and photographing life…both active and still.

Purple Beans: SOLC #15

With rain in the forecast (again!), I was thankful to be able to get my morning group of students out into the garden with their iPads. (No such luck with my PM group–but that is another blog post.)

In the fall, we had spent time in the garden clearing out overgrown beds, pulling weeds and enormous carrots that hadn’t been harvested because of our pandemic shutdown. We groomed the soil, sowed some seeds, made sure the irrigation was working–and then my attention turned to other instructional priorities, neglecting the garden.

This is the time of the year when I like to use photography as a tool to teach my students about perspective, about “seeing” the world in different ways, and about the role photos have played as advocacy. We’ve learned a bit about Dorothea Lange and her photographs during the depression and World War II and also about Ansel Adams and his photos of National Parks and Japanese internment camps.

So we headed into the garden to try on a few photography techniques: a bug’s eye view, leading lines, natural frames, and the rule of thirds. A lot had changed since our last visit to the garden before the winter holidays! We were greeted by 4 foot tall dandelions, beets bigger than a your head, and plenty of other surprises.

My students happily explored with their iPads in search of photographs. They laid on the ground seeking that bug’s eye view, looking up and under the masses of plants. They sought frames and lines, hopefully holding their devices still enough to prevent the inevitable blur that so many experience. They used those helpful grid lines to define the focus of their subject and carefully place it for their rule of thirds photos.

And they pointed out all the wonders they found. There was the little girl who worked diligently to photograph the roly poly that was trying to make a quick get away and the one who dug around in the garden bed and discovered that giant beet (above). They photographed flowers and beans, pinecones and weeds…and who knows what all else.

I found myself captivated by the purple beans. Lots and lots of purple beans and the mass of curlicues reaching up and around.

Tomorrow we will examine our photos, evaluating how well the photography techniques work in helping us look carefully. We’ll also do some writing, using the photos as inspiration and subject matter. And maybe we’ll also get back to some gardening. Weed those beds again, harvest our overgrown bounty, and start again with seeds. Seeds that will also help us grow–as photographers, writers, and advocates too!