Interlude: The Walk to Paradise Garden (excerpt)

by Gerry Badger

In his 1912 album on the Zone Militaire, the ring of open land around Paris that formed part of the city’s military defenses, Eugène Atget made a number of
images where he appeared to follow a nondescript path through some decidedly scruffy undergrowth. There seemed little reason for doing this, that is any
practical reason connected to his commercial practice. So one wonders what
private motive prompted him to make these intriguing photographs, which are, essentially pictures of “nothing.”

This image by Susan Lipper, which could also be termed a picture of “nothing,” comes from a series of landscapes she has been making in and around
Grapevine, West Virginia. Lipper has been making photographs in Grapevine
for over two decades, so it can be assumed that she is thoroughly familiar
with the area, and fully comfortable with it. Her photographs of small paths and roads, and details of woodland are the kinds of landscape that denote familiarity, but they seem far from comfortable. In their attention to detail, they could be described as “forensic,” and while they describe extremely commonplace scenes, their very ordinariness seems to lend them an uneasy quality.

One of the themes of Lipper’s Grapevine work is male violence. Some of the subjects of the early portraits she made there have suffered untimely, and violent deaths. This is a frontier community. In many ways, Grapevine, and hundreds
of similar small hamlets buried deep in rural America, mark a kind of Eden—wild, free, and unrestrained. But as Lipper’s peaceful, yet remarkably ominous landscapes remind us, at any moment in Eden you might find an apple tree,
but you also might step on a snake.

First appeared in: Gerry Badger, The Pleasures of Good Photographs, New York: Aperture, 2010.


Gerry Badger is a photographer, curator and critic based in London.  Among his books are Collecting Photography and The Genius of Photography. With Martin Parr, Badger wrote The Photobook: A History (2 volumes, 2004 and 2006),  winner of the Kraszna Krausz Prize in 2007. His book of essays, The Pleasure of Good Photographs (2010), won the 2011 ICP Infinity Award.