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2 August 2023

This Photographer Captures the Most Moving Portraits of the World's Gardens

Now is exactly the right time to pay close attention to the work of photographer Ngoc Minh Ngo.The Brooklyn-based artist focuses on flowers and other earth wildscapes, many of which, we know, are disappearing. What she surfaces, through her camera and incredible skill, are their little, maybe even giant, souls.

If you haven’t had a chance to view Ngoc’s work, autumn is full of opportunities to be beguiled. Her third book, “Eden Revisited, A Garden in Northern Morocco” published by Rizzoli, is now available as is Sarah Owens’ newly released cookbook “Heirloom,” which Ngoc photographed. Also, her photography in  “Nature into Art: The Gardens at Wave Hill,” captures the 28-acre Bronx public showing off its beauty. An exhibit at Wave Hill includes images from the book as well as a selection of the spectacularly sensual flower portraits from her Florilegium project (until December 31, 2019).

That's why I'm so honored that she captured the beauty of Bird Haven Farm throughout the seasons.

New York Nature Photography

Bird Haven Farm, New Jersey

Janet Mavec: What are you looking to show others through your photos of botanicals and nature?

Ngoc Minh Ngo: That life is fragile and brief but also full of wonder.

JM: What is the most emotional flower you’ve encountered?

NMN: I don’t think I’ve encountered an emotional flower in real life, but the rose in the book The Little Prince might qualify as the most emotional flower.

New York Nature Photography

Wave Hill Gardens, Bronx New York

JM: When you shoot gardens or botanicals, do you compose them like portraits? How do you surface their elemental nature?

NMN: Shooting gardens is very different from shooting botanicals, the former being done outside with all the unpredictability of weather and lighting conditions whereas the latter is in more controlled environment of a studio.
When shooting gardens, I have to work quickly, and it’s all very instinctual, reacting to what I see and feel in the space.
When shooting flower portraits, I have more time, to the extent that a flower will not wilt immediately, to compose the shot. In either case, however, I try to make the most of what is particular or special about the garden or the flower that I am photographing.

New York Nature Photography

Rohuna, Tangier

JM: Have you ever kissed, hugged, or held a conversation with a flower, tree?

NMN: Never! Just not a thing that I do.

JM: Tell us a horticultural story of a flower you met during the making of Eden Revisited. 

NMN: “Eden Revisited” is about a garden that the Italian writer Umberto Pasti created in a remote village south of Tangier in order to save the indigenous wildflowers of the region. One of these wildflowers is the Iris tingitana, which had once grown in immense fields around Tangier and could be found everywhere: arranged in vases on restaurant tables and shop counters, in laundry windows and hotel rooms, at the bazaars, and in living rooms of the finest villas to the most humble apartments. Old men wore them as boutonnieres. Young men hung them from rearview car mirrors, next to a plastic miniature Koran. The flower was very much a cultural symbol of the city, embodying its vitality.
As Tangier has developed over recent years, the fields of irises have mostly disappeared. Luckily, Umberto has salvaged thousands of Iris tingitanabulbs from construction sites and planted them on a hillside in Rohuna, where every spring they bloom en masse, their blue flowers held high on tall stems against the sea in the background. I had read about these irises from Umberto’s book before I met him, and it was a great pleasure for me to photograph them in bloom in Rohuna, where they transformed the landscape into a spectacular timeless tableau.

New York Nature Photography

Mothesombe, Devon England

JM: I create a collection of lotuses. As a native flower of Vietnam, do you want to share any stories of that flower or memories?

NMN: The lotus is a sacred flower full of symbolism. Rising out of mud, the lotus remains unsullied by its environment and therefore represents spiritual purity. The seed of a lotus can germinate after years of being without water, and a botanist was once able to grow a lotus from a centuries old seed discovered in a Manchurian lake-bed in China.

P.S. Janet thinks the pods are magical on Ngoc! 

New York Nature Photography