More Real than Reality: Cig Harvey’s “Gardening at Night”

Cig Harvey has made a name for herself with her poignant and affecting images, notably her book “You Look at Me Like I’m an Emergency.” We’ve been following her work lately and just had to pick up a copy of her newest publication “Gardening at Night!” Take a look at our latest ONWARD Book Review and don’t forget to check out our review of Lois Conner’s Beijing: Contemporary and Imperial as well! Following images courtesy of Cig Harvey.

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“Magical realism” is phrase bandied about with regard to Cig Harvey’s artwork, but that description sells her work short. With saturated color, layered textures, intentional focus, and seraphic light, she captures greater authenticity than what the eye perceives in an instant. Harvey’s work coalesces the visual narrative with all the sensory and emotional aspects of the moment intact.

Pomegranate Seeds

The Pomegranate Seeds, Scout, 2012

For whatever filters and lenses Harvey employs in her craft the device she wields best is her eye, which sees the infinite within the ephemeral. With selective focus, long exposures, and breathtaking color manipulation, she conveys both the joy and the melancholy of otherwise ordinary and everyday moments. In this way, the sequel to her popular debut, You Look at Me Like an Emergency, reveals what she has discovered, now fully departed from her former life in Boston and settled with her husband, daughter, and dog in their family home in Mid-Coast Maine.

Whether it is with a smattering of pomegranate seeds across weathered wood, Cheerios across a glossy white bed sheet, or felt-tip marker scrawls across a table, youth and innocence are celebrated within this book. The many wildlife landscapes, for instance, feel like they must to someone discovering nature for the first time in all its majesty and gravitas. Birds are favorite subjects, their ethereal wings and wizened eyes stunning in all senses of the word. Sunbeams and refracted light pervade Harvey’s work, as seen on glistening dewy forest floors, sparkling bodies of water, and blinding blankets of snow. Fireflies punctuate the gloaming, birthday candles glow, and trees are silhouetted against overcast afternoon skies.

The Farm

The Farm, 2014

The most striking subjects in Harvey’s portraits have their full forms obscured. An image of a woman behind billowed drapery early in the book is echoed in a later photograph—a child under silken curtains, pinchable toes in crisp focus as they emerge from a pink seersucker dress hem. Windshields, porch screens, panes of glass, and still water ponds also serve as veils, revealing only certain aspects of the people inside them. Each picture invites engagement while protecting against full invasion of the subject’s privacy. Having already been given so much, the reader readily honors this guardianship.

At other times, a first-person point of view is intimated by the human elements in her photographs. As a goldfinch takes wing, an outstretched hand may be that of the reader, either entreating the bird to land or releasing it to fly. The feet beside a fallen nest feel as if they might be our own, a scene recalled from either a dream or a waking experience from long ago.

Scout and the Found Bird, Rockport, Maine 2014

Scout and the Found Bird, Rockport, Maine 2014

Like the seemingly haphazard arrangement of our own memories, expect to find no apparent rhyme or reason to the sequencing of this monograph, at least upon first review. Harvey’s photographic and written narratives about conception, gestation, homemaking, and aging are arrayed not chronologically but as they might be recalled while reminiscing.


The Screen Door, Warren, Maine 2013

Domesticity, a contrast of elegant simplicity and chaotic disarray, is best illustrated in a portrait of Scout, Harvey’s daughter. Smartly dressed, poised with watering can and determination, she stands center frame, ready to tend wildly overgrown flower beds in a dilapidated greenhouse.

Gardening at Night evokes laughter and tears, kvelling and contemplation, each in turn and all at once. It is an array of emotional experiences, the sum of which is pure delight. This monograph will speak to all those within or through the throes of this chapter in life.

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