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Clue to the garden is in the name at Prospect Cottage

Jan-Carlos Kucharek

Photographer Gilbert McCarragher discovered Derek Jarman’s famous garden at Dungeness is best appreciated from inside Prospect Cottage

Derek Jarman’s writing desk in the Spring Room at Prospect Cottage as the sun rises on 17 May 2021.
Derek Jarman’s writing desk in the Spring Room at Prospect Cottage as the sun rises on 17 May 2021. Credit: Gilbert McCarragher

Growing up a gay teenager in a small town in Northern Ireland, Gilbert McCarragher spent post-watershed hours of his formative years watching Derek Jarman’s transgressive films as they first aired on Channel 4, long before choosing to go to art school in London. Once here, as many other like him, he too felt the urge to make the pilgrimage to Dungeness’ uncanny shores, nose pressed to the glass of Prospect Cottage, one more admirer trying to get the measure of a man he would never meet.

Making the place his home from 2008, and following the death of Jarman’s companion in 2018, he was asked, as a neighbour, to record the house as it remained; a process he carried out slowly and thoughtfully over several years. Filled with furniture, objects and paintings, he came to realise that the famous garden could only really be comprehended in the context of the four small timber rooms that looked onto it.

Jarman replaced single sheet glazing of the old fisherman’s cottage with Georgian-style frames after moving in, painted iconic yellow, as if to make his mark. McCarragher feels their grid helped Jarman control the vastness of this landscape’s wide open skies and shingle stretches. Thus tamed, he could then finely place his gorse, pieces of dogwood or flotsam; Albrecht Durer composing a still life.     

Prospect can feel incredibly dark at times, he notes, the windows generating one half of its dense, chiaroscuro atmosphere. He recalls a time when the sun hit his face and the outside was suddenly sucked in; the cottage was a pinhole camera and he saw the grid’s shadow projected across the room, embedding energy in the far wall; whose surface seemed bright, light-struck mnemonic film.

Nikon D800E digital SLR camera and Nikon Tilt/Shift PC-E 24mm f3.5 lens