The man who makes Suffolk gardens pretty as a picture
PUBLISHED: 11:06 25 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:25 20 February 2013
Ever wondered who is responsible for those wonderful pictures of gardens presented in <br/><br/>glossy coffee table books? Wonder no more, many are down to the talents of father and son Jerry and Marcus Harpur. Richard Bryson went to meet them
Ever wondered who is responsible for those wonderful pictures of gardens presented in glossy coffee table books? Wonder no more, many are down to the talents of father and son Jerry and Marcus Harpur. Richard Bryson went to meet them
Opinions will differ on the perfect job but if today finds you looking out on a sunny, early summer day there will be many who would like to swap places with Jerry and Marcus Harpur.
Thats because this father and son team are specialist garden photographers. Jerry, at 78, is a seasoned, much travelled professional whose work regularly appears in magazines, newspapers and sumptuous coffee table books. Based in Essex and a photographer since the age of 19, in 2001 he received a lifetime achievement award from the Garden Media Guild.
Marcus, 44, a father of three and married to a local GP, is continuing the family business taking pictures in Britain.With the help of an assistant, Claire Bent-Marshall, he also runs the filing and processing of photographs from an office in his own delightful village garden on the Suffolk/Essex border, near Sudbury.
Even meeting them on a grey and showery March morning it is difficult not to be enamoured by their bubbly enthusiasm.
I think it is a privilege to be in a beautiful garden, and its work that can be thoroughly enjoyable. However, you have to know about plants and be visually aware of design. Usually you have a limited time to take the pictures so it can also be chaotic, says Marcus.
Then theres the constant monitoring of the weather and hoping the garden will be ready: I had a job in Kent recently. The conditions were perfect, the daffodils were out, but not the magnolias. That means the pictures were incomplete, so I had to make another 200 mile round trip a week or so later, he explains.The advance of digital photography has also required a re-think. Working with film everyone had the same quality of colour, you just had to concentrate on composition and content, says Marcus rather modestly. We had to re-learn our trade, rather like farmers moving from horses to tractors...its a new age, the dark room has gone, with the computer screen taking the place of the chemical tank. There are advantages, of course, we have managed to rescue some over dark images with some digital tweaking.
You are as good as your last photograph and Im still loving it and learning
We have always worked with Nikon F3 cameras, never spending very much at all. Then, in the last few years, we have spent 25,000-35,000 on updating our equipment. Going digital isnt that cheap! says Marcus.
Jerry agrees but doesnt get too involved in the modern technology. That said he feels he is taking his best pictures now.
You are as good as your last photograph and Im still loving it and learning, he chuckles.
Early morning and evenings are usually the best times for capturing pictures with interesting light, colour and mood. The Harpurs are in agreement over what constitutes their best pictures.
I think our abiding interest is light and I often feel that we are really only photographing light, as captured in natural shapes. Some of my favourite pictures are simply colourful leaves which are backlit by evening sun. A lawn can look pretty dull until the light rakes through it and makes it aglow. Having aid that, a cloudy day is very good for getting the real colours from close-ups on flowers. So we are always managing the light. It is our first consideration when we decide to go out and shoot, they say.
Marcus admits to sometimes using a spray bottle to give petals those just fresh droplets of rainwater or dew. But I use it sparingly less is more, as they say.
A good cloudscape helps and we use half filters to balance out the brightness of the sky with the landscape, he continues.
You might think they are at their busiest in the summer months but it doesnt quite work that way.
We pretty much work the year round, in fact, we are always on the lookout for gardens that look good from September to February . . . magazines need them to fill pages for those months. A lot of gardens look great in the summer. Skilled gardeners are good at getting colour in late summer and early autumn. A good example of that is Pensthorpe in Norfolk.
Increasingly Marcus is looking for stories behind the gardens; writing is becoming almost as important as his pictures. He is impressed by EastFeast, a creative learning programme which includes children growing food at school.
I love the enthusiasm when horticulture becomes a movement, with children and families growing and eating garden produce.
In a Country Living feature he featured his own familys horticultural exploits with wife Mary and Rupert, five, Millie, seven and Connie, 10, taking starring roles.
As each defers to the other during our conversation its diffcult to imagine them falling out. Jerry starts the next sentence and Marcus ends it: We dont clash, we both have our niches, Ive got my international work...and I enjoy the local domestic side of things!
They lecture so maybe they should become a green-fingered double act; for anyone remotely interested in gardening they are well worth a listen.
A world of opportunity
Jerry Harpur photographs gardens and plants all over the world and has won awards for his work on both sides of the Atlantic. His photographs are published in House & Garden, Gardens Illustrated and Architectural Digest, and illustrate a host of books, including those as sole photographer for Penelope Hobhouses Natural Painting. He lectures in the UK and the US and was, until recently, a member of the Photographic Committee of the Royal Horticultural Society.
- Gardening is in the Harpur genes. My grandmother was a very good gardener and I remember making a garden for my mother. I think I got hold of a box brownie camera when I was very young but it was taken away from me! I guess I was destined to be a garden photographer.
- He joined the RAF at 19 and later opened a photographic studio in london shooting for L'Oreal, Renault and Citroen.
In 1979 he became one of the first dedicated garden photographers. Intially, English garden pictures sold well in America and the publishers Hamlyn suggested it might be a field I could specialise in. I also realised American gardens would appeal to people this side of the Atlantic and that prompted my frequent trips over there.
- He has worked with the celebrated American designer James van Sweden, one of the first to work with grasses and multi-levelled landscapes. The World War II memorial garden near the White House is his work.
- He has taken photographs on every continent apart from the Poles, for obvious reasons.
- There have been occasions when time is limited for the perfect shot. When invited to photograph the garden at the Viceroys Palace in India, he was told he must get his picture before 7.15am as this was the time the President of India went for his walk. Having almost captured the perfect shot he was told to go as his time was up. After a certain amount of negotiating he was given one more opportunity, only for the rider would ten minutes suffice?