Nature has always played an important part in my life. From my childhood on, it has always been and still is my teacher.
As a child I would marvel at all the life in the small garden of my parents’ house. I collected images of animals and went on nature trips with my parents and my brothers. Later, in the years of secondary education, my attention turned more specifically to birds. It was then that I bought my first camera, with the intention to photograph plants and animals, especially birds.
After a few years, however, I learned that photography also enabled me to express my inner world, a life-changing experience that started a long journey.
I could see two possible directions to choose from after I finished my secondary education: forestry or art. After some deliberation I chose art. But being unable to let go of working the soil in the cycle of seasons I soon decided to rent two allotments. This combination of photography and gardening has been part of my life ever since.
I’m very grateful to my art school teachers who, in addition to the regular curriculum, have allowed and stimulated me to find my own personal direction. It has been a period of experiments, research and many short travels in the Netherlands and abroad: meeting people, being on the move in the broadest possible sense. A journey to find the answers to the essential questions of life, to find meaning.
For the practical part of my final year I cycled through Belgium, France, England, Wales and Ireland. A journey filled with encounters and important experience, with nature as my companion. I slept beneath the stars, in haystacks (they still existed in those days) and sometimes in the homes of hospitable people. I came back home with a wealth of images, some of them photographic.
At graduation I was also awarded the Prize of the City of Breda. I used the prize money to buy Lely, the Norwegian Fjord horse. At the same time some friends and I had the opportunity to rent a four-hectare plot of land where we started an organic farm with our own shop and bakery. A period without photography, but with total immersion in the flow of seasons and our youthful enthusiasm, fully connected with the earth’s vitality.
Several years later, while travelling to the East, I realised that on my return I wanted to give photography my full attention again. I wanted to share my view of the world with other people. To use photography as an awareness raiser, a means to bring images from subconscious layers of my being into the light. Every photograph representing an inner state of being projected onto a physical reality, which gives this everyday reality new meaning and depth.
The photograph as a bridge between the inner and the outer world, where the ensuing image fills with meaning from the heightened attention for both worlds and intuitive framing. What makes this so special is the fact that what is seemingly simple and mundane is now perceived to be full of meaning, as if a veil is lifted to partially reveal an otherwise hidden world.
This silent alertness, stemming from a non-analytical attitude, from purely being there, from perception without judgement, can lift the division between inner and outer world; there can be one-ness, all-connectedness.
A constant theme in my photography has always been the relationship of man with the natural world. This has found many different forms of expression, but in all the themes that I have explored over extended periods of time, the inner impulse has been the main drive. But in addition there has always been that source of nourishment and enrichment, the garden.
The fruit and vegetable garden, the ornamental garden.
The true centre of my existence. The place to breathe in and out. Of deeper inner quiet during gardening work and through tumultuous periods in life.
For many years my photography brought me to other places in the Netherlands and abroad. To places, also, where life and death were close together. Always with the telltale signs of human activity, of man’s need to leave his mark on the world, to shape and re-arrange it.
After that I felt a growing desire to be in the desert, away from the constant flux and the constant impressions of our human world.
I have had the fortune of being able to act on this longing and I have found a wonderful place in the desert to spend time alone. In a vast and silent space. A primeval place, where every particle is charged with immense power and where I could also fully experience my own power as a human being, under the trajectories of the sun, the moon and the stars in the sky. A space where I was able to experience how I was present in everything around me. A remarkable and deeply meaningful experience.
After that first time in the desert I have visited this sublime world several times again, with my camera at hand. My desert experiences have in some way brought me back to an open-minded way of looking at the plant world in my own garden, as if looking through the eyes of a child. The circle in time seemed to be closing. The working environments of the gardener and the photographer were coming together.
The photography series ‘Metamorphosis’ is the reflection of this adventurous and miraculous journey through the world of plants. It portrays the diversity of plant life, in its multitude of manifestations in time and space, full of mystery, colour, intimacy, beauty and vitality.
Together with my beloved Gudrun and beautiful daughter Claire I call this remarkable piece of Earth home.
Paul den Hollander