Oleander – the Snow White lesson



My attention to my Middle Ground artist book has been on hiatus for a short time; in retrospect I think that all of the leporello book binding I completed for this artist book edition in conjunction with preparing for the solo exhibition really took it out of me. It was pretty intense experience, but when a gallery states that they have an open spot that just came available and “do I want a solo exhibition”? Duh. So it was all about get’er done and plenty of time for sleep later. I have now had time to rest and think about this project regarding some potential submissions.

For the astute botanist they will recognize that my book cover photograph, above, includes some beautiful blooming Oleander, which is also one of the deadliest plants on earth. The Oleander plant is even toxic to touch and it can kill a child who consumes one of its leaves. Thus the Snow White danger of the Oleander; very beautiful to look at while very deadly to touch, just like the villainous poison red apple of story-book fame.

Nevertheless, the state of California and the county of San Diego has planted extensive rows of this dangerous plant in the middle of the roadway, also known as Interstate-5, in Northern San Diego county. These Oleander shrubs became an integral part of my visual narrative for the Middle Ground project and I recently realized has an aspect which links it to my current project, Gardening For Ordnance. Both projects deal with a hidden danger that is induced into society as an aftermath of another decision for the “greater good”.

If America had not been attacked and subsequently fought back in WWII, then the fly-boy Marines would not have had to practice bombing targets before heading off to battle in the South Pacific, and where I now live would not be a de-commission WWII military bombing range. Likewise San Diego County’s desire to make an ugly freeway appear more beautiful for all of the tourist had planted a continuous row of the world’s deadliest plants in close proximity to those living adjacent to that freeway.

There are not any markers or signs providing a warning of the potential dangers of the Oleander for those driving that section of the  I-5 freeway, unlike the signs posted in my area about the dangers of unexploded ordnance. As a barrier and potential metaphor for a “Bigly” wall, the Oleander functions similar to barbed wire atop a border wall. Both the barbed wire and Oleander are dangerous to touch, while the barbed wire is really visually obvious to everyone who approaches it and the Oleander is not, more like the evil red apple inviting one to come closer who does not know of the pending danger.

I will be updating the Middle Ground artist statement and I think I have a better understand the continuity with my current project Gardening For Ordnance. Nice!

There are still some editions of Middle Ground still available for either Grenade in a Jar (Santa Fe, NM) or Arcana, Books of the Arts (Culver City, CA).


Douglas Stockdale; photo-blogger since 2008, Editor & Publisher PhotoBook Journal, the contemporary photobook magazine and Associate Editor, SoCal PhotoExchange Journal.

Exhibition: 2019 Summer Group Show, Fabrik Projects Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, exhibition opening August 3rd, 6 – 9pm, 2019

Portfolio Reviewer & Juror for LACP’s first Photo Book Competition, LACP 2019 Exposures Weekend, September 13 – 15th, Marina Del Mar, CA

Image: Middle Ground, limited edition artist book, copyright 2018 Douglas Stockdale


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