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.”