Be seduced by the beauty of urban allotments in Chris Hoare’s series Growing Spaces

The series was shot between April and November of 2020 and proves just how important outdoor spaces are to our wellbeing.

Date
7 May 2021
Reading Time
4 minute read

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Photographer Chris Hoare didn’t know much about gardening and growing when he first embarked on his project, Growing Spaces. He didn’t even really seek out the subject; the series was commissioned by Bristol Photo Festival who asked Chris to capture the allotments of the city in any way he saw fit. With such an open brief and little to no prior knowledge on the subject, he set about visiting the various existing allotments across Bristol, as well as impromptu plots that were popping up during lockdown, resulting in a body of work that evolves and, well, grows in tandem with Chris’ discoveries.

The project, like the festival itself, was conceived before the pandemic but, Chris explains, shooting the work throughout the first lockdown added a layer of importance to the subject. “I found myself particularly drawn to spaces that were in an urban environment,” he tells It’s Nice That, “mostly because of the obvious need for them during this strange time. Everyone seemed to be cherishing them more than they would normally and many forgotten about pieces of land were rejuvenated into flourishing gardens, it was great to see.”

One such piece of land was tended to by Faruk, who appears in the series leaning over a pink bollard. With the help of his family, he “turned a disused barren corner of land which wraps around a block of flats into a colourful, highly productive plot of land, more productive than most allotments I visited throughout the year,” Chris recalls. “Faruk had never done any gardening before this, so he was learning as he was going, mostly through YouTube. I began making images at the very start of their journey and was amazed to see the progression as the seasons changed.”

Documenting the changing of the seasons was one of the goals set by Chris when embarking on Growing Spaces. “I was consciously open to being seduced by the beauty of these spaces – which is plentiful – especially as the seasons unfolded throughout the year and I began noticing changes in the spaces I kept visiting,” he says. He was also keen to make a series that rejected, or at least went beyond, “the stereotypical view that society has of allotments”.

GalleryChris Hoare: Growing Spaces (Copyright © Chris Hoare, 2021)

It’s clear that Chris has captured the natural beauty of these spaces. The images are awash with warm tones, depicting an eternal summer so evocative you can almost smell the cut grass and mounds of soil. What really resonates though, is the pronounced sense of connection Chris made with the land and the people working it. Not only did he complete a photography project, but he made new friends and learned to love many areas of his city previously unknown to him. He tells us about one image which, although simple, means a lot to him: “There’s a picture of a pack of Budweiser in a pond, this was taken at the beginning of May on a beautiful Saturday and was at an allotment where I spent perhaps more time than any other. It was with a couple who have become good friends, their allotment is like an oasis in the city and an easy place to spend time, hours drift away as afternoon quickly turns into evening, usually ending with a fire or a BBQ.”

What he also learned was the holistic benefits of gardening and growing. Allotments and gardens are spaces that offer people so much more than produce and, often, the connections people have with their land runs deep. Like Webster, pictured putting wood into a wheelbarrow. Behind him is a shed that he inherited from his dad 40 years ago when he took over the plot – “apparently it has stayed almost exactly the same since,” Chris explains. “I remember the day I met Webster, we talked for probably an hour or so and he told me all about what it was like when he transitioned from Jamaica to England in the 60s and how ‘growing his own’ has always been important to him.”

Reflecting on the series, it’s this sentiment that really sticks out for Chris. “My gardening experience is next to zero, but I feel inspired after spending time with all of the people in the project and have since joined the waiting lists for an allotment of my own,” he says. “They are special places, I think I underestimated them before the project but the value of them is clear to see now, they are not just for growing vegetables, they are also social spaces, places where people share knowledge and sustain wellbeing in a multitude of ways.” In turn, he hopes those who view the images contemplate “on the joys of outdoor green spaces and how important they are” – even if only a little.

Growing Spaces will be exhibited, fittingly, outdoors as part of Bristol Photo Festival between 18 June – 18 August. The project is also available as a book, published by RRB Photobooks. “In terms of other plans,” he concludes, “I’m slowly chipping away at a broader project looking at the fringes of Bristol and the area where I grew up, as is a lot of my work although this might take some time. In the meantime, like everyone else, I’m hoping we get back to ‘normal’ as soon as possible.”

GalleryChris Hoare: Growing Spaces (Copyright © Chris Hoare, 2021)

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Chris Hoare: Growing Spaces (Copyright © Chris Hoare, 2021)

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

rbd@itsnicethat.com

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