A while ago I had an idea for a project with a working title of ‘nature taking over’. It was prompted by some random shots I’d taken of man-made things being engulfed in plants and leaves. I’ve always liked the idea that, were humankind to vacate the planet, it wouldn’t take too long before plant and animal life began to reclaim it for themselves. And I like the idea, too, that no matter how clever we think we are, we aren’t separate from nature and don’t have dominion over it and it will always, always, have the last word. If I’d completed the project, I was going to call it ‘I saw some grass growing through the pavement today’ – a line from a Jethro Tull song called ‘Jack in the Green’:
It’s no fun being Jack-In-The-Green —
no place to dance, no time for song.
He wears the colours of the summer soldier —
carries the green flag all the winter long.
Jack, do you never sleep —
does the green still run deep in your heart?
Or will these changing times,
keep us apart?
Well, I don’t think so —
I saw some grass growing through the pavements today.
The project was originally intended for one of my course assignments, but it just didn’t come together the way I’d hoped it would. The images didn’t sit together well or look part of a coherent set, and it was getting late in the season to take more so I did something different for my coursework. But I haven’t completely abandoned the idea and may go back to it – I find myself looking for these kinds of shots without really intending to.
A while ago I did a similar series of pictures but with a different slant, centred around the derelict house next door to us. Oddly enough, nature encroaching on this nice old house didn’t make me feel the same way – instead of an inner sense of satisfaction in its reclamation of the house, I felt a sadness that the house had been so neglected. Nothing we do is ever truly original so I wasn’t surprised when I came across a project on Flickr, by Julia M Cameron (no, not that Julia M Cameron – her namesake) that deals with the same kind of themes and, interestingly, some of the images in her project have as part of their title: ‘Neglect – nature taking over’. It got me wondering about the way you could take the same image, and by titling it differently express two very different viewpoints. The images in my ‘nature taking over’ and ‘derelict house’ are similar in many ways but express two different perspectives and motivations. And there’s yet another title involved – I called my house project ‘Abandoned’, which introduces different connotations again. I’m wondering how much influence the title of a work or series should have, or how much the viewer should be left to make up her own mind.
I don’t like the post-modern habit of calling everything ‘untitled’. I like things to have a title, even if just to make identification easy. However, if you were to look at my images with the idea of ‘neglect’ in your mind, would you experience them differently than if you looked at them with the notion of nature triumphing? Would a rose by any other name really smell as sweet? Or should the photographic technique used be enough on its own to identify the photographer’s intention? I have no answers, I’m afraid – just posing the question.