Charlie Hopkinson, a photographer based in the UK, has two primary subjects: People and gardens. Among many other things, he shoots portraits for Gardens Illustrated, which is how I met him, on an uncharacteristically sunny day at Kew Gardens in London. We talked about all sorts of things, but his interest in shooting allotment gardens (akin to community gardens in the U.S.) intrigued me. I asked him to send me some images, and then invited him to do this short interview.
NS: You have photographed some pretty high-profile people, from John Malkovich and Angelica Houston to Beth Chatto and Dan Pearson. And your landscape and botanical photographs are beautiful, though somewhat more formal than this series (is it officially a series?). What interests you about allotment gardens?
CH: I’m interested in photographing allotments because they almost always reflect the personality of the gardener. Many of the formal gardens I photograph reflect the personality of the garden designer. Allotment gardens are often pretty unstructured, which I like, purely functional as opposed to decorative which I like, and they are usually arranged in straight lines, which I find far more visually interesting that clever curves and so on. I love straight lines in photographs.
Do you have an allotment garden?
I don’t, but I’m making a garden at the moment, and allotments are the principle inspiration, especially function over decoration, straight lines, and a certain unstructured approach!
If money were no object, would you travel the world shooting allotment gardens, or is there something special about them being in the UK?
I would travel the world doing just that. I recently went to Kenya, and came across the odd allotment here and there, and photographed them. They were fairly scruffy and unkempt. There’s nothing special about UK allotments as far as I’m concerned. Up to now, this has been an idle thing I have done here and there. I would, given time, make a more studied effort, but it would have to include the allotment gardener being photographed too.
Many thanks to Charlie Hopkinson for his beautiful photographs and this interview. Brief bio: Charlie has been a butcher, paint maker, artist, and soldier before he taught himself photography. Based in South London, he spends most of his time on location photographing well known subjects for a wide variety of magazines. Much of his personal work is centred around things that grow or once grew. His gardening hero is Henk Gerritsen, and his bible, is Henk’s Essay on Gardening. Photographic heroes include Jacques Henri Lartigue, and Diane Arbus. You can see more of Charlie’s work at his website, charliehopkinson.com.
To learn more about community and allotment gardens, visit the Therapeutic Landscapes Network website’s Community Gardens page.