When I told local friends and family that I would be taking up an artist's residency at Mottisfont, the first thing everyone mentioned was the roses.
I spent hours and days wandering Mottisfont's grounds in my first week, exploring, getting a sense of the place. At this point, the walled garden was completely green. No famous roses yet. It felt particularly cold for May. I had just returned from a trip to Iceland, and I found myself still wearing my arctic coat. I sat in the garden's potting shed to shield myself from the wind... and then Audrey Hepburn appeared. Projected on to the interior potting shed wall, she strolled through a rose garden that was unrecognisable to me - wild with colour, talking to who I would soon learn was David Stone, former Head Gardener at Mottisfont. I sat in the potting shed watching them on a loop. This archive footage - Hepburn's passion for the roses, combined with David's wisdom was instantly captivating.
Observatory Resident Artist at Mottisfont, May - July 2016
I focused my next few weeks, the remainder of May, in the predominantly green and flower-less walled garden, chatting to visitors, volunteers and the gardeners. I became fascinated with a particular recurring sense of anticipation for the arrival of the roses. There was such a strong feeling of enthusiasm from almost everyone I spoke to. I decided that the film I was about to make would capture and investigate this feeling. My aim was to distill what it is about roses that evokes these emotions in so many people.
Speaking with Jonny, Mottisfont's current Head Gardener, he showed me the first rose to come out. This was the very beginning of the annual rose season, and a moment of realisation for me, that my time in The Observatory at Mottisfont would fall precisely over this flowering season. During the next two months the garden would change completely: from the pruned, shaped and neatly organised shades of green that I was experiencing now, to a fantastic mess of flowers and colour. I felt great privilege, to be able to see this transformation unfold, day by day, and also excitement at the opportunity I had to capture this fleeting moment, anticipated all year, with my camera.
I began filming on May 31st, roaming the garden with my Sony FS700 on a monopod. My plan was to film every day throughout my residency, taking me right through to the end of June, and the end of the rose season.
Once the first flowers began to open, the garden started to change at an incredibly rapid speed, with countless amounts of new flowers appearing each day. In order to capture and illustrate this transformation in the film, I decided to work with a timelapse technique, as a way to track the rose buds opening. Although I had worked with short term timelapses in the past (filming for 30 minutes to an hour at most), this time I would need to use a camera that could record for days at a time, sit inconspicuously in a flowerbed, and be completely weatherproof in order to track a rose bud opening.
Once I had sourced a suitable camera, I programmed it to take one photo every minute, from 6am – 9pm (daylight hours). It was a process of trial and error, as I could only review the footage once the timelapse was complete.
After speaking with people each day, I discovered that perhaps most important aspect of the rose phenomenon is the smell. I became fascinated by people's passionate yet contrasting descriptions of the smell of the garden. Smell, of course, cannot be directly communicated through the medium of moving images, so I began to investigate possible ways I could capture this sense in my film. Through speaking to people in the rose garden, I discovered a significance of the relationship between smell and memory. Speaking to members of the public as they encountered the roses, I captured the evocative nature of their smell, transporting people back in time.
On my last day at Mottisfont I was able to screen some Work in Progress, which was a brilliant experience. It forced me to prepare a rough edit of the film in just a few days, which meant I was thinking a lot about the structure, and make really quick decisions which I would usually spend a lot more time on. On the afternoon of the screening there was a huge rain storm, meaning our original plan to screen in the rose garden itself had to be abandoned, and we moved to a marquee outside the garden walls, which had a distinct wedding venue feel! The rain actually seemed quite fitting in the end, as it plays a huge part in the film. The rain hitting the marquee was echoed by the rain storm sequence in the film! The screening went well – everyone who battled though the rain really enjoyed it, which gave me confidence and energy to take the footage back with me to London where I would continue to work on the film.
The next steps: Editing!
I'm now back in London, having just started a new job at the BBC (I'm now working on a documentary about veganism. All change!) Actually it's been really helpful to have a complete change of scenery. It's given me time to reflect on the Mottisfont experience as a whole, but most importantly, to get some distance from the intensity of the filming process. As I was filming in the same location almost every day for over a month, I became so close and involved with the project that each night, when I watched back the footage I had shot that day, I found it difficult to detach from all the individual elements (framing, sound issues, interview technique...) and see the footage as a whole. Taking some time away from the footage will enable me to begin the editing process with completely fresh eyes. I'm really excited for the next step now: editing!
Florence Kennard is a documentary film-maker based between London and The New Forest.
She is a member of BAFTA Crew 2016-2017 with a Film Editing specialism. She was nominated for “Best Documentary” at the London Short Film Festival two years running, in 2015 with her short film “The Forest Toys”, which was funded by the British Film Institute, and then in 2016 with “Norma’s Colours”, which was her MA Experimental Film Graduation film.
In June 2016 she completed an Artist’s Residency at the Arts Council supported “SPUD Observatory”, at Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire, UK. She will begin her next residency at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk in October 2016, with an exhibition to follow in early 2017.
Through a combination of conversations, moments of reflection, filming individuals during the very personal “act of smelling”, I used slow motion, filming at 200fps to experiment with ways of intensifying this fleeting moment.
I also spent time with Open Sight – a wonderful local charity working with sight impairment in the local community. I worked in particular with the Romsey and Southampton branches of Open Sight. I invited small groups of sight impaired individuals and their family members / carers to walk through the rose garden with me and share their experiences as part of the film.