By ROBIN LLOYD-JONES
This essay is part of the ‘Near is the New Far’ series, which is about how you don’t have to go far to find the awesome and the wonderful.
Growing in a shaded corner of my garden is an eight-foot clump of lovage – a stout, umbelliferous plant, a hardy perennial herb which belongs to the same family as fennel, dill, carrots, parsley and parsnips. It has ribbed and hollow stems, compound leaves and flowers that offer their yellow and white umbels to the sky. Lovage is intriguingly versatile. Its roots, leaves, seeds and stems all have medicinal and culinary uses.
I am in the habit of wandering in my garden, camera in hand, trying to be open and receptive, ready for something to find me. Today it was the lovage. What held my attention was the engineering precision of the plant; its amazing architecture and structural design; the subtlety of light falling on different surfaces; the hinted order behind the apparent chaos of foliage.
In ancient China, so the story goes, an apprentice asked the great master, Wang Fu, to teach him to paint bamboo. Wang Fu forbade him to touch his brushes. Instead, he must meditate in front of the bamboo until he and the bamboo became as one; until he was the bamboo. Only then could he paint it. Well, I can’t claim that it was quite the same between me and the lovage, but for ten minutes I did stand in front of it, walk around it, peer into it and view it from a crouch and from on tiptoe, trying to connect with it as it swayed gently in the wind.
There is something inherently aggressive about much of Western photography. We talk about ‘capturing’ a subject, or ‘taking’ it; or even ‘shooting; it. What I strive for is to receive an image rather than take it; to regard it as gift. Photographing the lovage was an act of praise, a prayer. Looking at it and really seeing it was a precious moment of mindfulness in which I glimpsed the extraordinary in the ordinary.