Simone Nieweg: Bed of Leeks, Duisburg-Walsum, 2003
This view of a section of garden planted with different kinds of vegetables is marked by a profusion of green tones. Simone Nieweg titled her photograph Porreebeet (Bed of Leeks). The leaves of the leeks jutting up from a rectangular bed have a bluish hue, while surrounding plants such as pole beans, potatoes, nettles, and dandelions shimmer in colors that range from yellowish-green to a deep, saturated green. At the far end of the bed, three buckets—in blue, red, and white—suggest a contrasting world of color. They seem almost out of place, and yet the manmade objects introduce an element of the here and now, of use and activity. They also support the pictorial composition, manifestly reinforcing the leek bed’s diagonal thrust. A similar purpose is served in the foreground by the wire-mesh fence fastened to a wooden post, which also marks the boundary between plots.
The garden shown in Nieweg’s photograph is of a type known in German as Grabeland—literally “land for digging.” Unlike typical allotment gardens, such plots are not available for long-term lease or ownership but are instead zoned for interim use on a year-by-year basis until they become building land or are put to some other use. The plantings are also prescribed to reflect this provisional state; no perennials, bushes, shrubs, or trees are allowed.
Since Grabeland is impermanent terrain, entirely subject to utility and optimization, one rarely finds here any of the decorative elements that populate allotment gardens. There are no garden furnishings, grills, or sun umbrellas—indeed there is nothing that would indicate the presence of leisure. What we see instead are the instruments of work, tools used to prepare the soil and cultivate the plants.
What Nieweg finds especially interesting about Grabeland are the forms and structures to which such conditions give rise. She has been working on this project since the mid-1980s, shortly after beginning her studies with Bernd Becher at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. Gardens, fields, landscapes, and more recently, views into forests are among the subjects that Nieweg has consistently explored in series taken over extended periods. She prefers using a large-format camera and elaborating her motifs in color.
Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Köln