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Exploring Mexico’s Gardens in All Their Mystery

Photo exhibition at BU’s PRC examines life and death in nature

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Another New England winter officially begins on Thursday, ushering in a season of bitter cold, gray skies, and barren trees. For those already eager for spring, consider stopping by the current show at the BU Photographic Resource Center (PRC), titled Los Jardines de México. Featuring verdant images of Mexican gardens by noted photographer Janelle Lynch, the exhibition runs through January 28 and is a welcome antidote to winter gloom.

“It seems that this show provides a wonderful break from all the business of the holidays, exams, end of semester,” says PRC program and events manager Erin Wederbrook Yuskaitis, “and everyone has gotten something different out of it.”

Shot between 2002 and 2007, Lynch’s photographs are grouped into four series, each with a different theme: loss, death, regeneration, and life. Taken together, the exhibition is a testament to the persistence of life. Lynch found inspiration in both urban and rural landscapes in Mexico City and Chiapas. Her idea of what constitutes a garden will surprise many viewers.

The first of the series, El Jardín de Juegos (The Playground), shot in an abandoned playground next to Mexico City’s largest cemetery, explores symbols of loss and absence in the urban landscape. The second, Akna, which is the Maya word for “mother,” as well as the name of the Maya goddess of fertility, uses portraits of tree stumps in the central Chiapas mountain range to express regeneration. Ferns and other plant life can be seen emerging from the decaying stumps. The third series, titled Donde Andaba (Where I Walked) depicts urban landscapes and the tenacity of plant life, regardless of its surroundings. The photographs in the final series, La Fosa Común (Common Grave), taken in a still-functioning common grave site in Mexico City, summarize the exhibition, investigating all aspects of the life cycle. In these photos, beauty and plant life coexist alongside death.

Yuskaitis says feedback about the exhibition has been positive. From the gallery’s comment book: “A fresh breath of air” and “Janelle Lynch’s photography has truly inspired me, especially the Donde Andaba series. It reminds me that there’s always hope.”

She personally finds depth and meaning in the exhibition, Yuskaitis says. For her, Lynch’s images reveal a solitude that creates a strong connection between viewer and photograph.

“While each print poignantly examines loss, each piece also remains surprisingly accessible, allowing the viewer to feel fully present within these gardens,” she says. “Each series is deliberate and analytical, while also poetic and beautiful.”

The PRC first learned of Lynch’s project last summer when she sent a copy of her book Los Jardines de México (Radius Books, 2011) to former PRC curator George Slade. Slade was struck by the photographs and suggested exhibiting them to PRC executive director Glenn Ruga.

Over the past decade, Lynch has received international recognition, particularly for her large-format landscape photography. Her photography can be found in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum and the George Eastman House Museum, in Rochester, N.Y.

“Our gallery has featured dozens of internationally recognized photographers over the past 35 years, but it is always a thrill to feature someone like Janelle, who is making waves very early on in her career,” Yuskaitis says. “We are excited to share this body of work with the New England community and believe that she will continue to make great strides in the field of photography.”

Los Jardines de México is on view at the BU Photographic Resource Center, 832 Commonwealth Ave., until Saturday, January 28. The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, from noon to 4 p.m., closed on Sunday and Monday. Admission is free for BU students and $4 for the general public.

Tom Vellner can be reached at tvellner@bu.edu.

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