greenhouse

july 2007
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 












at the end of the Civil War, photographers discarded most of the glass plate negatives used for capturing their historic images.  The art form was in its infancy, and the future value of these glass negatives could not be imagined at the time.

in the period of Reconstruction which followed, the southern plantation economy was in ruins with the flow of commerce and means of production having been disrupted during the war.  those living on plantations reused the discarded glass negatives to construct greenhouses as a way to produce any food they could for sustenance.  over time, constant exposure to the sun caused the glass panels to fade, losing any trace of the history they had documented.  the greenhouse- a metaphor for the loss, memory, and history of the South, was all that was left.

the concept of the greenhouse endures as a compelling vehicle for communicating the pictorial history of the South.  re-conceived as a contemporary structure it serves as a testament to the cycle of destruction and renewal that the region has experienced up to the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.  the social structure that has persisted over this history received significant national exposure during the flooding of New Orleans and importunes the use of the greenhouse for telling this story in its historical context.

in its original form the imagery was unintentional; a happenstance addition to a utilitarian structure.  but its role as a time capsule transcends this functionalism in a dramatic inversion which is captured in the updated design.  as the part of image and vegetation are reversed thematically so too are they reversed spatially: the images fill the volume of the greenhouse, hanging from its structure in a dense pattern that recalls the great chandeliers of the old South.  The vegetation, stripped of its utility, is sandwiched within the glass enclosure and serves as a vestigial reminder of the greenhouse's own history.

in modernizing the structure with new technologies for embedding and printing images on glass, the form of the greenhouse remains as a typological necessity, providing continuity with the past.  the enduring form allows us to view the contemporary South through the lens of its own history.