Thursday, October 1, 2020

Pandemic Meditations: In the Garden of the Pandemic by Ira Gardner

The leaves are turning, and the nights have begun arriving earlier. As we've officially entered autumn and, now, October, this week's COVID news remains much the same in its predictably unpredictable surges, fatalities, surprises, and no-surprises. 

Amidst such a backdrop, Pandemic Meditations moves into its second month. This week, photographer Ira Gardner is here to share his reflections on life and art during such a time. 

Please welcome Ira to the series.



In the Garden of the Pandemic

by Ira Gardner

Act of Kindness (2020) © Ira Gardner

2020 has been a perfect storm of disruptions to my artistic life. I had just completed one of the most productive artistic periods of my career during the Fall of 2019. I had taken a sabbatical from my teaching position and was working on art projects full time at my studio downtown and had a new show open January 1st. Two weeks later, 2020 began to unravel.

The landlord for the building where my studio was located decided to double the lease payments, and our arts organization had to scramble to find a new building. The new building we found was fantastic but needed significant building-out of the space before it could become operational. Then Covid-19 hit and we could no longer occupy our studio because the space was wide open and without clear boundaries (e.g., walls). One by one, the artists resigned from the collective due to their own financial strains caused by the pandemic.

I know I am much more fortunate than most. As soon as the landlord notified me of the rent increase, my wife and I decided to remodel our barn into a home studio for me. Home felt more permanent and something that gave us a sense of stability. I still wanted to be a part of a downtown arts community so I continued to pay my dues, but I hit the pause button on going there until the build-out was complete.

Back home, the contractor we hired did an amazing job of taking a dilapidated old barn and giving a strong structure. It was close enough to completion for me to begin using it before the order to quarantine-in-place took effect, although because it wasn’t heated yet, I didn’t spend much time there. 

My initial response to the pandemic was to throw myself into work. I taught extra classes, formed new partnerships, and started two different podcasts that were intended to help others through the pandemic.  One was a business podcast that I started with a photographer based out of Sacramento who used to be a V.P. of internet marketing at Wells Fargo, and the other was a faith and philosophy podcast that I started with a pastor at my church who is my age and someone I have known since we coached our kids tee ball team.

During the early spring I felt a strong sense of purpose that kept me going. I felt blessed to have a life partner equally driven to help others and that we could come together in the evening to share our gratitude and to cook healthy foods and drink good wine. We felt blessed that most of the products the stores were running out of were not the ingredients we needed to make our food.

As good as all this was, my artmaking had stopped.

The cold wet Spring combined with the daily onslaught of news filled with misinformation, propaganda, and hate speech wore me down. I moved towards distraction and spent days researching parts for my motorcycle and planning trips.  

Eventually, the weather warmed and my wife and I started making plans for our garden. That had been part of our reason for building the home studio. Much of my art practice has been evolving towards compositions based upon the fractal patterns found in plants that stimulate restorative alpha waves in the brain. I can remember the first day that we put in four small raised flower beds. I climbed up onto the back deck to look at the progress and immediately felt a jolt of positive energy from the colors in the garden. I knew my artmaking was coming back.

Our first flower garden was inspired by the concept of a paradise garden found in Iran. These gardens are designed to be an oasis and feature symmetry and a water feature. We had an old claw-foot tub that once lived in the master bathroom just sitting out in the yard so we decided to make a water feature and to grow water lilies, hyacinths and irises.

The Amateur Botanist (2020) © Ira Gardner

The selecting and arranging of the plants in the garden became an important part of my art practice. Watering each plant by hand became a daily ritual. By keeping the plants alive, I was keeping my spirit alive and finding artistic inspiration. In the meantime, we were experiencing random acts of kindness such as the day Sarah came home with a bouquet of daffodils from a checker at Trader Joes as a thank you for remaining calm and patient during a stressful time.

Those daffodils became the first subject in my new studio after they had wilted. Their tissue-thin petals reminded me of the skin of my elderly parents and how beautiful they both are. As I worked through the visual problem of how to compose these photographs I could feel the sap starting to flow in my artistic soul.  

Four weeks into working in the garden, the water lilies began to bloom, and I started photographing them. Their blooms are so delicate and last for only three to four days. I had two water lilies in the tub.  One bloomed on a regular cycle and the other did not. I would watch the bloom rise to the surface of the water and then slowly submerge after it was done. One day as I was out looking at the garden, saw two blooms had emerged simultaneously. I spent two days photographing them. You wouldn’t think it would take so much effort but it does.

Over the summer, my response to Covid-19 has been one of gratitude. In the midst of all the drama and debate of our times, I have tried to help others and create work that inspires wisdom and compassion and creates some psychological distance that will allow people to see the beauty that exists in all life.

I and Thou (2020) © Ira Gardner


Ira Gardner 
Ira Gardner has been a professional photographer since 1989 and is an avid essayist as well. He teaches photography and Digital Media Production at Spokane Falls Community College was an active member of the Richmond Artist Collective (now defunct due to pandemic). He lives in Spokane, WA. View a selection of his photography at Ira also shares his work through a blog on his website called EIDOS Journal. Visit the work at

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