Room to Grow: A Participatory Visual Archive

18 June – 18 July 2021

Windmill Hill City Farm | Philip St, Bedminster, Bristol BS3 4EA

Looking at the stories and history of both allotments and allotment holders, members of the public were invited to contribute to an online archive throughout 2020 and 2021 lockdowns with photographs and stories. From sneaky foxes to vibrant redcurrants, this archive aims to highlight and pay tribute to the creativity of both photography and growing. A selection of this archive will be displayed in this outdoor exhibition which will be touring around Bristol City Farms.

© Colin Pantall

Historically, photography has always been used to document the evolution of species. It was a key way to record different kinds of fruits and vegetables, celebrating the best examples and warning of the infestations, moulds and fungi that may disrupt growing. As photographs started coming in to the archive, the pride and joy of growing your best ever pumpkin or tomato was still apparent. Vibrant examples of apples, chillies and beetroot graced the Instagram feed. 

Submissions to the archive also revealed the imagination and creativity of both practices. Self-made trelliswork and bird-deterring plastic bottles showed the ingenuity of allotment holders; their ability to be practical and innovative to produce creative solutions. But photographs of their spaces also revealed the layered beauty of colours and textures throughout the allotment: rusty wheelbarrows and skyscrapers become part of a bigger composition, blending into a landscape of soft pink and green; the everyday turned magnificent.

Perhaps most tellingly, the archive draws upon the positive benefit photography and urban agriculture can have upon our wellbeing. Many recent studies have explored how both activities can improve self-esteem, quality of life and help us reconnect with others and the environment. The contributed photographs definitely show these advantages. We see friends, parents, children, siblings and communities coming together to grow or socialise. But we also see quiet moments of reflection: the still and calm of stopping for a cup of tea under hazy afternoon cloud or noticing flowers in full bloom and stopping to capture their beauty. 

These mindful moments are essential in all of our lives and perhaps now even moreso in times of Covid and isolation. Having a balance between free time and the other routines of life has become increasingly important. Both photography and growing provide a time to relax and focus the mind and Dig it Yourself draws light on the significance of these shared purposes. For Bristol Photo Festival 2021 a selection of photographs and stories from the archive will be exhibited around Bristol’s city farms and various allotment spaces. We hope you can join us as we delve into the world of growing, exploring its stories and connections to photography.

© Danilo Murru
© Peter Mitchell

The participants involved are Shaun Jackson, Claudia Melina, Colin Moody, Danilo Murru, Helen Ashby, Kineta Hill, Tom Pelly, Jamie Castairs, Marco Kesseler, Rupert Hopkins, Emma Case, Horfield & District Allotment Association, Miriam Manco, Alan Mann, Jenny Roozel, Jack Bateman, Oscar Morland, Rudi Thoemmes, Colin Pantall, Christopher Manson, Steve Laurie, Darren O’Brien, Rachael Munro-Fawcett, James Hudson, Ian Harris, Mayeli Villalba, Ken Grant, Martin Parr, Peter Mitchell, Jon Roche, Jenny Lewis and Kirstin Whimster,.