Unseen Energy: The Infrared Garden
Carlos Vega is an indigenous Atacameño; his ancestors have lived in Chile’s Atacama Desert for thousands of years. The high-altitude desert is one of the driest places on earth, but during 40 years Carlos has cultivated a large garden of plants that heal and nourish. I encountered Carlos and his garden during an artist residency in northern Chile earlier this year.
I decided to photograph the garden with infrared technology. The idea was that revealing the usually invisible energy from the infrared part of the spectrum echoes the alchemy of energy exchanges and transformations that occur when plants absorb energy from the sun and soil and turn it into sources of energy for people and other living things. It is also a reminder that visible objects and processes are just a small subset of the universe that contains us. There are many powerful forces – some known, others yet to be discovered – that are beyond the perception of our five senses. Carlos’s sensitivity to obscure energies informs his choice of plants in the garden and how he cultivates them.
In a region that rarely receives rain and where he gets a water allocation only once a month, Carlos uses his understanding of energy in its many forms to create and nurture a lush garden. These photographs are an homage to his success and the important lessons it holds for a world on the verge of a climate crisis.
Virginia Hines is a photographer and photography writer based in San Francisco, California. She started photographing during high school, working part-time for the local newspaper where her parents were editors. In college at Rice University she studied photography with Geoff Winningham; later she resumed her photographic education, studying with notable artists including Harvey Stein, Bruce Gilden, and Alex Webb. She is a frequent contributor to Street Photography Magazine, which featured her during their Year of Women Photographers in 2021. Her photographs have appeared in many other print and digital publications and have been exhibited in group shows across the U.S. and in Europe and South America. She also wrote the introductory essay for Harvey Stein’s book of street photography, Coney Island People: 50 Years (Schiffer, 2022). Follow her latest work on Instagram @vhines_photos.