Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Zone

They say you should never go back, and it's a sentiment I generally agree with, but a lot depends on how much attention you were paying at the time. Yesterday, I was back in Oxford with Number One Son, who was at an open day. I decided to spend a few hours in the University Botanic Gardens, surprisingly, a place I have never visited before.

Oxford was still blanketed in snow, but it was a bright sunny day, and the combination was pretty breathtaking, if slightly treacherous underfoot. As the day progressed, a steady rain of thaw water was dripping and cascading off the ancient stonework and the greenhouses.

Snow Cloud

Photographers talk of getting in the zone and I certainly got in there yesterday. Fans of Andrei Tarkovsky and his film Stalker will know that The Zone is not an unambiguous place, and that being there is an essentially lonely experience (though there was a great article this week on Stalker in the Guardian by Geoff Dyer, which made me feel considerably less lonely). Getting in, of course, is no guarantee that you will bring anything of value out.

The Botanic Gardens are clearly a place of magic, where centuries of care have woven an enduring spell. The equivalent place in Southampton University, where I have spent so many years pursuing photographs, is a site of neglect by comparison. Neglect has it charms, but Magic is Magic. And if it's wabi sabi you want, you can't beat Cotswold stone.

I kept coming across the tracks of a large bird (a heron?) that had been patrolling all over the gardens in a seemingly playful way. Sometimes it walked along the edges of a bed, even following the corners, and sometimes it walked in straight lines regardless of any features. In one place it seemed either to have been joined by two companions, or to have walked back along its own tracks twice, in the same direction. It looked like it had had similar business earlier in the day as I was having in the afternoon, by indirection finding direction out.

An afternoon to remember, exploring and photographing in a new place inside an old place. I also had important things to think about. So, if you were in the Oxford Botanic Gardens on Saturday afternoon, don't be concerned if you saw a bearded middle-aged man with a camera behaving strangely. I was merely in the zone -- a place that can look pretty strange from the outside -- looking for those brilliant corners.

1 comment:

sarangkot said...

That's a lovely post. I know the emotion well.