Why photographer Allan McDonald likes things a little bit wild

by India Hendrikse / 13 September, 2017

Mount Eden, Auckland, 2014: “The gardener here does not own the plot of land but gardens it anyway. It is an act of love, in turn loved by the neighbourhood who appreciates its scale, beauty and industry,” says Allan McDonald.

Terrain vague

Photographer Allan McDonald’s series of intriguing garden spaces asks us: wouldn’t it be better if things went just a little wild?

Closely shaved lawns bordered by trimmed hedges and an array of symmetrically planted chrysanthemums, perhaps interspersed with a rose bush or two: the average uptight suburban garden is usually a far cry from a wild natural space. And yet, photographer Allan McDonald suggests our approach need not be so regimented, so maintained. McDonald’s series of photographs of plant-filled urban spaces, some taken in Auckland, presents an approach to landscape that he adores. Named terrain vague, the concept essentially means non-design. “It’s a landscape that isn’t completely domesticated,” he says of the spaces that feature in his images. Instead of prim and proper green spaces, McDonald’s vision comes in the form of semi-wild inner-city gardens. “My pitch with this work is to argue for a looseness and openness in the way we think about landscape, as to allow for a sort of wildness,” he says. “It’s something that exists within the urban fabric without too much money.”

McDonald is unimpressed by the manicured gardens he sees in his own neighbourhood of Grey Lynn. “What’s happening everywhere, particularly in an urban landscape, is space is getting more and more expensive, more and more commodified, and people doozy it up so it’s worth more,” he says. “So, it gets domesticated, it gets tamed down.” McDonald prefers for nature to run wild, creating urban gardens such as Madrid’s Casa de Campo. “You get something like Casa de Campo, and there are these areas of wilderness or semi-wilderness and they exist within the urban fabric, and to me they’re a more exciting type of landscape space. I mean sure, we need formal parks, but also within the urban environment it’s great to have these non-domesticated spaces,” he says.

Dunedin, 2013: “This tree alongside the random application of paint on a wall, blocking out graffiti maybe, creates a sense of playfulness that unintentionally enlivens the industrial environment.”

Karangahape Road, 2017.

Kawhia, 2017.

Mount Roskill, 2005: “These are the last remnants of a suburban garden that was destined to become a motorway,” says McDonald.

Grey Lynn, 2014: “This garden appears to be a landscape riddle. It gives the appearance of a wild void in the middle of what has become expensive real estate. In fact, it is tended by a woman in her nineties who has lived on the property her whole life.”

Allan McDonald is represented by Anna Miles Gallery, annamilesgallery.com

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