Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sharing Passion, Community, and Stories Worth Telling

As I sit here in my office waiting for winter, I see empty trees that invite me to dream of my recently colorful space... This post is about a project that was special to me and relates to a community that plays a vital role in MY life. If you are not a member of the gardening community, think about how this story applies to a community that is important to you. How can you explore what you find personally meaningful, allowing the experiences of others to feed your own while adding your own imprint on the community?
A few years ago, while taking a "break" to have a child I returned to my photography roots. I had studied photography in high school and college and originally intended to pursue a career as a photo journalist. I took a detour when I discovered art history and left dreams of professional photography behind me. As a new mom seeking time for quiet contemplation, I found myself gravitating more and more to the garden with my baby. I sat her on a blanket while I weeded. I sat her near pretty posies that invited my recording of the scene, recalling old passions and using old skills of documentation that were tucked away for safe keeping in the recesses of my personality.

This seemed far from my archives world, sitting out in nature rather than inside among inanimate things. I began daydreaming, as I generally do, thinking of things beyond myself. The garden was a breath of fresh air that allowed me to ponder my life path and purpose. I began wondering if all gardeners came to the pursuit as I did, looking for a sense of calm and seeking communion with something larger than life. So I decided to find other gardeners. I had never belonged to a gardening club. The hobby was passed to me by my parents who kept their own gardens and shared their passions for it with me. All my gardening knowledge was taught by them, was learned from experience, or came from a book. Like my parents, I had never explored gardening beyond my own yard, but I knew that there was a community of gardeners whom I soon itched to know. I wanted to know what made them tick. I put up flyers at local garden centers and asked people to call me if they were willing to be interviewed and photographed for a project about passionate gardening that I called "The Gardener's Soul: Nature's Path Toward Inner Peace."

When I thought to embark on this project and while I conducted it, I honestly did not relate it to my archives work. Now I see how it fits so nicely among the archives and cultural concepts that I try to promote - acknowledging communities, documenting communities, preserving intangible heritage, sharing experiences, etc., etc. It began as a self-directed project to feed my curiosity and turned into a documentation and community project. The fourteen women who shared their gardening experiences with me also allowed me to record their stories and garden portraits in my book. They became an important part of my life -- a community bound by my writing and representing a larger global gardening community.

When we think about culture beyond ourselves as I did in my pursuit of "The Gardener's Soul," the possibilities for documentation opportunities are endless. What matters most to you that is worth exploring deeper? What communities have you formed or can you form around your own personal passions? How can you contribute to a greater good by sharing your experiences and your community with others? What tangible things can you create from your activities that will live for posterity? How can you tell others about what makes you joyful and what is important to you? Think about what is worth sharing and find creative ways to pass it on.

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