Plants and Walls, Toronto ON, and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

I guess we all see patterns in our photography: I know that I do when I scan through my digital files. I have more close-ups of tulips and backlit leaves than anyone could possibly need; more slightly blurred photos of birds in disobliging motion than anyone could reasonably be expected to tolerate; and not quite enough grand vistas yet.

Yet for the most part this happens unconsciously: I’m not trying to make a collection, I just happen to like tulips, backlit leaves, birds, and grand vistas.

But sometimes I am aware of that collecting impulse, and so it is with my small but prized collection of plants on walls. Many attempts have not turned out so well; a few are satisfactory. What are they about? Dunno. But I like them.

Grass poking up behind retaining wall over my head.


Weeds growing in window of old stone fort.


J.R.R. Tolkien (and weren’t his parents wise to give him three names? Would The Lord of the Rings be as impressive if written by a mere J.R. Tolkien?) said, “Adults are allowed to collect and study anything, even old theatre programmes or paper bags.”

That’s good enough for me. I do have some paper bags (very nice ones, of course), but primarily now I collect pictures of green things growing on or adjacent to walls.

And I do find it interesting when I see evidence of that same impulse in other photographers, as in this photographic collection of Soviet-era bus stops.


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8 Responses to Plants and Walls, Toronto ON, and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

  1. Yes! but only two?
    I linked to the collection of Soviet-era bus stops. Strewth, what bleak surroundings! Middle of nowhere doesn’t seem to cover it. But they did bely the sameness of most Communist architecture — their featureless apartment blocks, for example. These bus-stops were definitely not designed by a committee.

    Plant life growing out of concrete always gives me hope, not as hope usually is — the vain persistence of expectation over experience.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Well, it’s not from lack of trying, but so many of the wall-and-plant shots have turned out quite, umm, insipid. But there are more. Maybe even soon. And yes, the bus stops are great! I want one in my neighbourhood.

  2. Jim Robertson says:

    Walls with plants are a great item to collect shots of – nature trying to take back its territory.

    I wonder when/if I’ll ever do much of anything with all my cemetery headstone shots…

    The bus stops are great; even in their decrepit condition they are more interesting than our bland glass huts.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim R – Thanks! The bus stops are, to my eye, both ugly as sin (concrete, ugh) and a testament to the human urge/need to beautify/personalize our environments.

  3. Alison says:

    Makes me want to hunt through my photos and see what I unconsciously collect. I’m guessing there are some plants on walls, or out of cracks in concrete – which I find fascinating. Which brings up the question of why my largest, lushest parsley plant this year grew in the middle of my gravel walkway?? I ended up walking around it, and ultimately harvesting bags of parsley.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – I figure all photography is Zen in nature – it’s all about noticing. Some is conscious, for sure, and some not so much. As for the plants, they don’t need much to take hold, do they? I think of all those trees growing out of the Canadian Shield!

  4. Part of the reason you and, surely, others like these two photographs is that they fulfill the principle of the Golden Mean. The compositions, whether deliberately or by happenstance, are divided visually into thirds (or close enough to succeed). Both photographs do so twice, boldly then rather subtly. In the first, the wall, the grasses, and the sky form the first divisions that are made more interesting by the central band of soft grasses, which evoke curiosity as to what else lies beyond the hard concrete wall. The natural and the human constructions raise questions about their juxtaposition and uses that create tensions that cannot be resolved although the eye keeps searching. The blue sky is less remote for its pattern of high,white clouds that cluster on the right as the grass also grows more thickly on the right and the wall, seamed into thirds, is darker on that side. Thus, the eye is drawn to the right where strong horizontal lines draw the eye back towards the left. The eye is kept moving among these contrasting colours, textures, and patterns without much drama, so the overall effect is soothing, like watching the sea. One is tempted to think that walking along that wall would be a restful, refreshing experience, but maybe not. A certain ambiguity prevails.

    In the second photo, the composition is more dramatic because the thirds create a central focal point emphasized by the clear division horizontally and the multiple features that divide the window less sharply from the wall vertically in colours essentially black and white. The hard stone and stucco and evident timbers carry massive weights of historical and visual implications that make the frail natural growth more poignant. But the dead vine trailing from the upper left corner calls attention to a stone breaking away from the wall, so we notice other stones have already fallen. Mutability, a theme that touches the most enduring of human structures, compels us to notice the crafts that were involved in making this one, to the framing of timbers and laying of stones and bricks, as well as to the natural forces as strong as freezing water or as insinuating and tender as frail ferns and vines, that will bring them down. The focal point is a mysterious darkness, a further reminder of certain futures. Yet, how much use and pleasure we take in such structures and growing things while we live! There are associations richer to rhapsodize upon in your photo, Isabel, than Keats found on his Grecian urn. Lovely.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I have no training in this sort of analysis, although I at least know of the principle of thirds. When composing and cropping, I just sort of mess about with it until it looks right to me. As for the rest of the factors you mention – from weight to texture to pattern – I’ll take your words(s) for it! Thanks!

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