Arts Desk

Plant Photography is Pretty Much What it Sounds Like at the U.S. Botanic Garden

Sunflower Field 1 – ID: 13302959 © Loan  Tran

The U.S. Botanic Garden’s exhibit “This Land is Your Land” collects far-flung images of plants in the United States, taken by photographers in the Garden Club of America. Perhaps half the images fail to rise above tourism-promotion-board quality, and some of the titles are distractingly maudlin (“Misty Reflections,” “A Walk in the Park,” “Down the Garden Path,” just to name a few). In the meantime, some of photographers hew only loosely to the focus on plants, training their lenses more on rocky landscapes than on flora.

Even so, several of the photographers in the exhibit manage to tease out low-key, overlooked beauty from their surroundings. JoAnne Rosen photographs verdant crops fitted tightly over the rolling hills of rural Washington state, while Jane Perry McFadden documents a tumbledown barn in Montana. Arabella Dane contrasts bright red maple leaves with the green shades of leaves and lichen, while Loan Tran harnesses the everlasting charms of sunflowers in a Maryland field (above).

Carmel Lampton and Mary Smith offer moody and unexpectedly absorbing tableaux from humble source material—marshes—while two other photographers, Sue Klein and Debbie Ross, accomplish the same trick using the drier environs of the Utah desert. Jean Matthews, for her part, photographs a Florida byway surrounded by an impressive thicket of gnarled trees.

The exhibit’s most memorable image, though, is Gary Estes’ aerial photograph of a rugged promontory in Hawaii. Against the deep-blue backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, the viewer sees rocky outcroppings covered by a thin layer of vegetation, along with a barely perceptible, diagonal scattering of rays, or perhaps rain—a welcome touch of mystery to an exhibit that is, overall, straightforward to a fault.

Through Oct. 13 at the U.S. Botanic Garden, 245 First Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. Daily 10-5.

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