2014 Permaculture calendar — a review
...by Russ Grayson, November 2013
I WASN'T SURE how to review the 2014 Permaculture Calendar. Last time I reviewed this annual publication I approached the job with a utilitarian perspective. So, being uncertain, I decided to flick through the pages and let subjective impressions emerge.
By the end of my flicking I realised that the photos made for a diverse coverage of permaculture and the types of activities it supports. Five of the images were food growing related and within this group there was the range spanning home and community gardening and farming. There was one food shot, one social permaculture, two lifestyle, one about energy efficient building design and one about soil. That's a good mix.
IMAGE STIMULATES A QUESTION
Here, a question came to me and it was about what, exactly, constitutes permaculture. Now, I know this is one of those recurring questions that punctuate the permaculture design system. What triggered it was the photo of the nomadic camel herders in Pakistan (they received Permaculture Australia's Permafund support in 2012) and how what appears to be a continuing traditional lifestyle relates to the design system. The answer, for me, is that permaculture seeks sustainable ways of living and, presumably, that of the camel herders has been going on long enough that it can be sustained.
My flicking through the publication done, I sat back and thought about which images had caught my imagination. This is subjective stuff, I know, and people will all have their own favourite images. Mine include Craig Macintosh's March: Zaytuna Farm, NSW; Jose Lasheras' April: the moneyless man, UK; Richard Telford's July: Swaraj Organic Farm, Victoria; Rachelle Davey's October: Highet Street Community Garden, Melbourne.
Some time ago I had read the moneyless man's book and his calendar image, sitting there at the door of what appears to be a wattle and daub shack, reading, took me back to it. I read into the photo that knowledge and careful, critical thought are necessities of the simple life. Mark Boyle deliberately set out on a life experiment to see whether he could live for a time without money. His was an interesting book and, if you are in the mood for reading something real but different, I recommend you buy or borrow a copy. I must warn you that it's not good bedtime reading because it is difficult to put down. Expect late nights.
Images that appeal probably strike some resonance and I guess most of those I mention have to do with my work in stimulating and in policy development for community gardens and for the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance in regard to small farms. I must point out that I enjoyed all of the images, those mentioned simply a few that grabbed my imagination.
DOCUMENTING OUR COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE
By coincidence, Richard Telford sent me the calendar just at the time I am reading a book about documentary photography/photojournalism ('Photography as Activism: Images for Social Change, by Michelle Bogre).
The book features numerous interviews with photographers engaged in this kind of work and provides an informed discussion about the different ways they go about getting their images, their motivation and ideas. As I flicked through the 2014 Permaculture Calendar it occurred to me that these images, too, constitute documentary photography and, in the context of a permaculture publication and with the design system's propensity for creative social change, they too could be regarded as a type of photography of social activism.
The calendar's photos illustrate two approaches to documenting people and places — the posed image and the unposed, action image. It's not that one of these is better than the other. The images in the calendar are for the most part what are called 'environmental portraits' — photos of people surrounded by their work or their usual environment. I'm sure it's only photographers that will see the March, April, July, August and October images as posed environmental portraits. Photos of that type capture people and what they do, whereas the January photo appears more an unposed image, though it might not be.
Most photos need contextualising to imply meaning, and it is the role of the caption to do that. Those appearing at the bottom of the calendar pages do this well, following the proven formula of telling what is going on in the photo and where is is followed by additional information that tells an informative story.
THE NECESSITY OF MAKING IMAGES
'm an advocate of people photographing or videoing their permaculture work. I guess this comes from having been a journalist/photojournalist, but apart from my own experience there's the consideration that what does not appear in image and text is likely to be forgotten. What is not recorded is lost.
A social movement, like permaculture, has to be captured in still and video images, as well as in text, if it is to remain self-conscious, if it is to know where it has been. That's why the photos in the successive Permaculture Calendars are important — they record the movement's life, its experiences, experiments and those who made them happen.
I hope that, one day when Richard has a few spare moments in life, when he's not building houses or editing publications, he will compile those images in a permaculture picture book. It was in the nineties, I recall, that the Permaculture Institute came up with a proposal for such a book and called for photographic contributions. That book was never published. Now, with a catalog of several years' photographic contributions for the Permaculture Calendar, perhaps one day we will see a photographic retrospective of the design system (not trying to burden you with more work, Richard).
Meantime, we've got the latest edition of the Permaculture Calendar, the 2014 version. I'm sure you already know that it would be a great Xmas or other gift, even something you could send to someone with a note of thanks for the work they are doing. In doing this you not only give something that each month will present a fresh image of people making a difference, you are supporting a worthwhile permaculture initiative. What could be more win-win?
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