Andrea Jones talks about life behind the lens
Sandy Felton, Reckless Gardener, talks to Andrea Jones, one of the world’s foremost garden photographers and winner of the 2018 Garden Media Guild Garden Photographer of the year, about life behind the lens.
It is probably no surprise to learn that Andrea, was raised in the south of England by her mother who loved gardens and a father who loved photography. Having studied an art Foundation Course at Bournemouth then specialised in photography at Salisbury she entered the commercial world, originally buying and selling collectable and professional cameras. Ever since she was at school however she had an interest in natural history and nature and it wasn’t long before she realised that life would be much more exciting behind the camera instead of trading them.
During the 1980s she did some advertising studio work, assisted a leading interiors photographer and then due to a chance meeting on a plane she leapt at the opportunity to work for Dr Jane Goodall. Firstly in Burundi, East Africa documenting a sanctuary there for orphaned and rescued chimpanzees. Secondly in Tanzania where she travelled to the Gombe Research Station. This is really where her love of the natural world found resonance. Inspired by Jane, it was later in Sierra Leone in West Africa that Andrea started concentrating on photographing plants: “I wasn’t the greatest at photographing chimps in the wild! This was before the digital age and I didn’t really have the correct equipment for photographing fast moving animals in the low light of the forest – nor the turn of speed! So I concentrated more on the landscape and my eye was drawn to the plants in the environment and the fruits that the chimpanzees ate. I was hooked.”
Andrea recalls one of the first gardens she photographed professionally on her return from Africa: “I went around with the garden owner and I remember knowing no Latin names whatsoever. She was incredibly generous with her knowledge and I started thinking to myself that this was a bit different and far more gentle than dealing with the day-to-day working environment I had been used to in the advertising world.”
The rest, as we say, is history. A look at Andrea’s portfolio will tell you that there are also a lot of subjects connected to gardens that she enjoys and it leads to all sorts of challenges such as food, wildlife, people in the garden, portraiture and book work, so you have to be able to turn your hand to a variety of photographic tasks: “Certainly, if I were advising a young photographer these days when starting up, I would suggest that it is a good idea to specialise in a subject that you know, love and are passionate about. Having a niche subject area that excites you makes all the difference.” (pictured left: Carolside Gardens, Earlston, Scottish Borders).
When Andrea is commissioned to photograph a garden it can come as a bit of a surprise that she will go and visit it first on her own: “I have been working a lot last year with Tom Stuart-Smith, and especially with some of the larger projects he designs I found it very useful to visit the site beforehand.
“I think it’s almost impossible, with a garden particularly, to just rock up and get the hang of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, you need to get the feel of the garden, find out where the design came from and what is important to the garden owner or head gardener – you need to find out what they feel about it and what elements are important to them.”
Andrea does a lot of book work and we discussed one particular favourite of mine, “Making for Home: A Tale of the Scottish Borders” photographed by Andrea for author Alan Tait. This is a poignant tale of life in the remote farmhouse that Tait has restored in the Scottish Borders. She recalled that she photographed one of the bests views in the book from the top of a remote hill (see image below) on the morning of the Referendum result: “I was driven up a steep hill by a shepherd on a quad bike, my camera equipment cushioned in fleeces in the feed-tin panniers! We went up this gravel path to the top and drove along – it was magical and he kindly waited with me for the best light. It was a special moment I will not forget.” She recalls the conversation being rather surreal given the national news: “It was a lot of thanks to this shepherd and Professor Tait for showing me this location to get such an impressive shot.”
One of the challenges of photography has to be the organisation of the work and also the level of fitness – you have to carry some pretty heavy kit. You can also find yourself in remote locations in all weathers so you need stamina in a lot of different ways: “It’s not just taking the photographs and waiting for the light but shifting all the kit and moving in and out of various accommodations, traipsing up hills – some of the estates I film are pretty big, particularly in America – and you have to like driving,” she says.
For her illustrative work on ‘The Splendour of the Tree‘ (for which she was awarded the Garden Media Guild Book Photographer of the Year 2014) she admits that trees have a special place in her heart and for this book commission Andrea had to travel to many areas around the world including a 1300 mile trip from San Diego north up the West Coast of America to find eleven different species. On that particular occasion she was helped by her husband Alasdair but this illustrates the amount of time a photographer needs to spend travelling. She definitely loves photographing on islands: “Particularly as I think the light is so much more atmospheric, historically lots of artists think that, the more natural the better.”
(above) Bristle Cone pines in the White Mountains of California – Pinus longaeva – among the longest-lived life forms on Earth
She would rather be photographing in a wild garden or forest or mountain than a show garden as she loves the wilder rather than tamer environment: “Having said that,” says Andrea, “I find design interesting too, it’s nice to have a balance and I know if I only did one I would miss the other. I also love photographing plants in close up. I was one of the judges for the RHS Photographic Competition this year and I was amazed at the difference in the number of entries in the close-up plant category to overall garden shots. Fun to do as they are abstract and you can play around with them getting a good overall garden shot is often much more difficult. I’m very much looking forward to joining the panel of the Society of Garden Designers to help judge the 2020 awards.”
She prefers to go up high if she can and is quite happy to climb a wall or get onto a roof! She also has to keep track, obviously, on the weather: “My desktop is littered with different weather icons and I tend to check out three different forecasts and average them out. I have to say I find the Norwegian weather forecast good (www.yr.no), however, much of my juggling evolves around the light as well as the weather. When photographing a garden I have got to be on the property before the dawn light arrives. I will also have done my ‘recce’ the day before so I have a plan in place and know where to start.”
Despite her hectic schedule and international travels, Andrea, who lives in Ayrshire, Scotland, does get time for hobbies. She has her three dogs, is learning the piano and classical guitar and she also makes silver: “I picked a leaf from my late Mum’s maple tree and made an impression into silver to remember her by – it started from there really. However, my biggest hobby is still photography and closely followed by sitting at my desk editing pictures!” (pictured right: Acer palmatum (Matsumurae Group) ‘Shinonome’ flower and foliage in spring).
I asked her about winning The Gordon Rae Photographer of the Year Award (2018) at the Garden Media Guild: “That was wonderful and really unexpected. I had been working on a book about West Dean and I was hoping that it would be entered into the Book Photography awards category but unfortunately it wasn’t eligible for this year’s awards, so it was a nice boost to win the Photographer of the Year, particularly as I lost my mum last year. She’d have been so thrilled.”
A visit to Andrea’s website encompasses better than any article the diversity and passion of her photography. For over 20 years she has worked on some of the world’s most amazing gardens, supplied images for magazines, books and newspapers, photographed private gardens for clients and garden designers.
She also gives talks, judges competitions (she has just been named as one of the judges of the 2020 Society of Garden Designers Awards), and continues to work for a wide variety of clients, both commercial and private. Her website can be found at: https://www.andreajones.co.uk
Andrea’s International bestselling book ‘The Garden Source‘ – Inspirational Design Ideas for Gardens and Landscapes – has been updated and published with added sections including Extreme Naturalism, Dutch Wave, Tropical Chic and Containers and natural materials and is available to purchase on Amazon.
My thanks to Andrea for taking time in a very hectic schedule to do our interview, it was an enormous pleasure for me to chat with her.
Picture credits: All images strictly ©Andrea Jones, Banner picture of Andrea credit Jonathan Buckley.