Duncan discovers art in the allotment

EMMA OUTTEN Photographer Duncan Reekie has chosen the ramshackle allotment shed as the subject of his first one-man show at Norwich Arts Centre. Emma Outten asked the young man why he wanted to spend more than 18 months visiting the many allotment sites of Norwich.


Like beach huts, allotment sheds can take on a character all of their own. Which is probably why photographer Duncan Reekie decided he didn't need people in the picture for his one-man show of allotment sheds at the Norwich Arts Centre (April 4 to May 7)..

His work is generally based around people and their environment. The 24-year-old from Norwich said: “It was going to be just about the gardeners, because you get all different walks of life at these places.” But, having spent the past 18 months visiting many of the 18 allotment sites in Norwich, he came to the conclusion: “There are never lots of people around at one time.”

In choosing the allotment shed as his subject he hopes the public will relate to his work but at the same time find a deeper artistic awareness of these intriguing constructions.

“It's all about the character of the sheds,” he said. “They are all different - they all have their own little features.”

Duncan's eye was attracted to their different shapes and sizes, and he added: “It's all about the way they were built - put together and made out of old doors and panels.”

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Over the past year and a half he has visited many of these green spaces in Norwich, taking the utmost care not to disturb any of the flowers, fruit and vegetables, of course!

Norwich has more than 1450 allotment plots, and, from what he has seen, it appears to Duncan that the quirky, hand-built allotment shed is on its way out and is being replaced by ready-built or off-the-shelf kit constructions.

It has, therefore, become important to Duncan that these unique constructions be recorded - although he has included a couple of modern ones as a concession.

The 20-something admitted his subject was a bit bizarre. “It's just a bit obscure taking pictures of sheds but it's been getting quite positive feedback as well,” he said.

He comes from an artistic family. His mother is Pam Reekie (who was centre manager of Norwich Arts Centre from 1985 to 2003) and his father, David Reekie, is one of Britain's leading contemporary glass artists (work in museums has included the contemporary glass collection at Norwich Castle Museum). “I was really more into sculpture at first,” admitted Duncan, having done a foundation and GNVQ in art & design at City College Norwich.

His father is supportive of the photography, and the exhibition. “My dad's very encouraging about it,” said Duncan, before adding: “He can be bit too encouraging sometimes!”

But a photography exhibition on allotment sheds would be nothing surreal to the Reekie family, Duncan explained, even if it is to his friends.

He graduated in photography at Southampton Institute in 2003 and although he photographed some sheds there, most of the photographs in the exhibition were taken in his home city of Norwich. He has lost count of the number of photos he has taken of allotment sheds in all.

“Out of all the allotments that I have been to there have been a couple that stick out in my mind,” he said.

“The first is Mousehold South, some of it is rather rundown but the plots that are being used are amazingly well kept with a lot of pride.

“The most memorable feature of this plot is the view. Situated at the top of Mousehold, it looks over Norwich and is very relaxing on a summer's day.”

He added: “The other allotments that stuck in my mind are the Valpy Avenue allotments. They weren't anything that special but I met a very helpful chap there with the biggest guard dog that I have ever seen; he also had lots of racing pigeons.

“My aim in this exhibition is to share my fascination with these sheds with other people by focusing on the building itself and eliminating its surroundings.

“I see the sheds as expressions of individual creativity, their creators often transforming scrapped materials and objects into personally distinctive retreats where their owners can relax and potter to their hearts' content.”

Last year Duncan was a winner of the People's Choice Prize in The Big Picture photography competition in Norwich, run by the Norwich Arts Centre, the Forum and sponsored by Adnams Brewery.

When he has not been taking photographs of allotment sheds, Duncan has been working as a studio assistant for Hot Animation, creators of Bob the Builder.

His next photographic project is farmers and their tractors. And Duncan promises that the farmers will feature this time.

t Duncan Reekie's Allotment Sheds Photographic Exhibition, Norwich Arts Centre, Monday April 4 - Saturday May 7; www.norwichartscentre.co.uk

t Any members of the farming community interested in featuring in his next project can contact Duncan by e-mailing pop_larkin@hotmail.com