You may have read in the Irish Times a couple of weeks ago that Malahide Castle and Gardens have officially reopened to the public again. Why am I writing about this you may ask? During last year and parts of this year I had alluded to working on a large-scale commission, and now that the project has been completed and the Gardens have been officially reopened I can talk about it freely.
In the early part of last year I was approached by Bright3D, a company that specialise in designing Visitor Centres. As part of a a huge investment in revitalizing the entire site Bright3D had been awarded the project to create the new Visitor Centre for Malahide Gardens and were seeking a photographer to work with. I was asked to submit a bid; the initial brief to produce images of the flowers, plants and trees within the Walled Garden and West Lawns. Unfettered access to one of the most amazing botanical gardens in Dublin, talk about kid in a candy store; I jumped at the chance. Thankfully the strength of my portfolio in terms of the right combination of botanical and landscape images was enough to win the project and I set about work in June 2011.
So what is so special about the gardens in Malahide, particularly the walled garden? The late 7th Lord Talbot de Malahide had a passion for collecting plants, in particular plants from the southern hemisphere, notably Chile and Australia; and it is for this very reason that these gardens are such a treasure. The Gardens are full of rare specimens that you generally do not see anywhere else in Europe, such as the Chilean Fire Tree (1st image in ‘Magical Plants’ to the right). Here’s what the Malahide team have to say themselves about the Walled Garden – “Originally a kitchen garden for the cultivation of fruit and vegetables, the walled garden replaced an earlier garden to the South East of the castle. It is large by Irish standards [1.6 Hectares Large!] and is unusual in not following the typical rectangular design and having a very large pond at the South Western corner. This area was extended in 1902 with the arrival of Lady Isabel Talbot, a very keen gardener and again in 1946 as Lord Milo Talbot’s plant collection increased. The garden is divided into different areas and gives the impression of a series of secret gardens. There are 7 glasshouses ranging in size from the Primula house to the Victorian Conservatory.” (Source: Gardens Website)
As I mentioned the team over in Bright3D were hired by Fingal County Council to create the Visitor Centre, the signage used throughout the gardens and a very innovative audio/visual tour. The main part of my brief was to capture the very rare flora I spoke about above throughout the seasons. The idea was that as visitors walked around the garden they would have a tablet device that would not only provide details about the various plants they were looking at through audio but also show them pictures of how that plant, tree or flower looks throughout the year. So it may be the middle of Winter and a visitor is standing by the bare branches of a rare Rose Bush but a quick look at the tablet device and they would be able to see how that actual Rose looks when in full bloom in the middle of spring or summer. As another example, say a visitor is looking at one of the many amazing trees dotted around the gardens in the middle of summer. They could see it drenched in Summer green foliage but if they were to look down at their tablet device they could also see how that very same tree looks in Autumn or the middle of Winter (the last 2 images in the ‘Magical Trees’ section right show the same tree in Winter and Autumn). An amazing idea I think you’ll agree; I was psyched.
Once we worked through the finer points of the brief in partnership with the Gardening staff we locked on a final count of 30 of the rarest flora. My brief was to capture these plants from multiple angles; Macro close-ups to showing the subject in it’s surroundings, in both landscape and portrait orientations; and all of this repeated across the seasons. Essentially the client needed maximum flexibility when it came to final image selection for any given usage. This approach made absolute perfect sense as, unlike say a Product shot there was little chance of a ‘do-over’, if we did not get the shot needed of a plant in flower we could not wait another 12 months for it to be back in season! In addition the brief was expanded to include a requirement to capture the ‘romanticism’ of the gardens and castle. With expansive lawns, ancient walls and buildings, massive trees and the already mentioned amazing plant live this was an easy ask. The gardens are beautiful, full of little places to hide, benches along tree filled walkways, ancient trees providing shade and some beautiful glasshouses. The last component of the business end of the project was to agree licensing arrangements. Given the size of the project and the projected number of images I needed to produce we agreed a tiered licensing arrangement that give them maximum control of all assets to use locally on site and a flexible license to use a portion of the images for publication worldwide. Agreement on license duration and exclusivity duration were the final components to this stage.
As you can imagine the project required me to meticulously plan for both the entire year and on a per site visit basis to ensure each plant was captured at the right time in each season; and that I was able to deliver the right selection of ‘romantic’ images. The Head Gardener Barbara and her team were critical to our success and proved incredibly helpful throughout the project, always making themselves available for any questions and giving me a heads-up on anything that was flowering ahead or behind schedule. I learned so much about the art of running a garden of this size through those interactions. The business end of things was no different and James and the team over at Bright 3D were always an email or call away for clarification. Like any project, particularly one of this duration there will be inevitable changes and tweaks, a bit of scope creep here and there but lines of communications were always open and questions answered promptly. Below is what James Simpson, Bright3D’s Senior Designer on the project had to say;
“Our project at Malahide Castle & Gardens, near Dublin needed a special eye to do justice to the unique plant collection of the late Lord Milo Talbot de Malahide.
Based on his extensive portfolio, we commissioned John to record the most precious specimens and capture how the mood of the garden changes throughout the seasons. This set of images formed the back bone of printed graphics and multimedia within our garden exhibition and was also used to great effect in marketing the attraction through signage and website. Images varied from macro shots of plant textures to landscapes of the garden.
The work produced was of a high standard and John’s management of a difficult subject matter, workflow and brief was excellent. This project required a number of site visits over a 12 month period working closely with our client acting on behalf of us as a subcontractor and we found him to be most professional and conscientious. The status of the project meant we had high expectations and John delivered against them within the confines of what could be achieved within budget and logistically given the ever changing nature of a garden. The online galleries of images were especially useful for client approvals and for easy image download by a number of parties in the design team.
John proved to be a good choice for this project and we would be glad to recommend him for similar work.”
Senior Designer at Bright 3D
By the time I submitted the final set of images from my last site visit in June I had produced a total of 240 images over the course of 12 months. These ranged from macro images picking up the tiniest detail in a rare flower to the grand lawns drenched in golden dawn light. With the kind permission of Bright 3D I share here a small flavour of the images I produced. This was certainly the longest and most complex commission I have been involved with to date but it has also been one of the most satisfying. Having access to the gardens when no one else was there was a dream job. Visiting them now and seeing what an amazing job the full team did, from Designers and Architects to the Gardeners and builders; and to know I was a small part of that fills me with great pride.
While, unfortunately the client decided not to go ahead with the audio/visual tour, the Visitor Centre is open to the public and you can see quiet a bit of my work on display there, as well as on the TV screens at the entrance.
If nothing else I hope this post has whetted your appetite to visit Malahide Castle and Gardens. So if you are close by why not pay a visit and while you are there stop in and have a nice Coffee and slice of delicious cake in the Avoca Cafe :)