Following a long discussion with my tutor I printed off all the possible images for this assignment, stuck them up on the wall in my workspace, and ended up going out and re-shooting several of them. I also tightened up considerably on the theme, and made it into a story about a year in the logging process in our area. This fitted better with my original thoughts on what happens in Scotland as described in my original short essay, however it is ironic that even though one of the main stated purposes of the Scottish Forestry Commission is use of the land for recreation there is a strong emphasis on ‘Keep Out’.
I feel that this was reasonable for my stage. The selected images are in focus, and correctly colour balanced. They show a range of details from close up to distant focus. I have tried to keep the design and composition straightforward and simple enough to show the point without overcomplication.
Quality of Outcome:
I think that I have communicated my idea about the forestry work in Scotland. It was difficult to keep it simple and within the confines of 10 images and a very short introductory paragraph. This would have been easier as a longer piece of work – and could have then included images of other woodlands.
Demonstration of Creativity:
I am not sure that there is a great deal of creativity in this! The idea is simple, taken from my surroundings.
I spent a reasonable amount of time reading around various other photographers work on woods, forests and the impact of man on the natural environment. Reading the websites on the National heritage of Scotland and the Forestry Commission Scotland , although not directly linked the photography, was especially useful as it made me aware of the historical implications of what I was seeing.
‘There were so many things a tree could do: add color, provide shade, drop fruit or become a children’s playground, a whole sky universe to climb and hang from; an architecture of food and pleasure, that was a tree’ (Bradbury, 1950).
When most people think of Scotland they think of heavily wooded areas, either replete with ancient forests or full of forestry commission pines. In reality it is neither. At present only about 17% of the land area of Scotland is covered by trees, which, while lower than most other European countries, is a significant improvement from the 5% it was in 1919 when the Forestry Commission was started to increase the amount of timber available in Britain following shortages in World War 1. This initially led to the planting and harvesting of vast areas of soft wood, often non-native species, leaving desolate tracks, but since the 1980’s there has been a change towards planting of mixed species and use of the woodlands for a wide range of activities including timber production, biodiversity, carbon capture and social uses. (Nature.scot, 2017).
In Scotland most of the forested land remains under private ownership, but some is also owned by the government and managed by the Forestry Commission Scotland. (Scotland.forestry.gov.uk, 2017) There are complex planning agreements in place to make efficient use of the land that is suitable for forestry, as much of Scotland is too high and with too poor soil for tree plantations. There are still areas of land stripped of trees awaiting soil regeneration, and replanting and these look desolate and unwanted. Other areas are full of new growth and light.
This is the land I live in and travel though on a daily basis. It changes over the years but also remains eerily the same.
Bradbury, R. (1950). The Martian chronicles. New York: Doubleday.
I started with the premise from Robert Adams essay ‘Truth in Landscape’. ‘Our discouragement in the presence of beauty results, surely, from the way we have damaged the country, from what appears to be our inability now to stop, and from the fact that few of us can any longer hope to own a piece of undisturbed land’(Adams,1996).
When you think about images of forests they are broadly divided into two camps, with photographers who have celebrated the beauty, solitude and wonder of woodlands and those who have shown the devastation that mankind has performed. Some photographers have taken both types of images.
An example of this school of photography that concentrates on the damage we have done is the work of Wendelski who has taken a series of images in Germany based on the destruction of ancient forest during the process of open cast mining for brown coal and the activist that set up camps in the forest to protest this.
From this idyllic picture of sunlight though the trees
to the destroyed countryside and swathes of mud
A similar piece of work has been carried out by the Magnum photographer Koudelka. He has done a vast photographic report on the coal mining industry in the Black Triangle in Czechoslovakia. I was lucky enough to see this when it was on show in Edinburgh. The images are graphic, black and white, very sombre. In the Edinburgh exhibition relatively small individual images, approximately 1m x 30cms were laid out in a line, so you followed the trail of disaster around the room. The destruction here has been going on for much longer than the damage in Wendelski’s pictures in Germany but is startlingly similar.
Godwin is particularly interesting in that her viewpoint and type of images she took changed over time. Her earlier work as shown in the ‘Secret Forest of Dean’ (Godwin, 1986) exemplified the beauty of a natural environment and how people could live in harmony with it, while in later work such as ‘Our Forbidden Land’ (Godwin, 1990) talks about how landowners limit access for their own use, and specifically, in reference to Scotland, talks about the environmental challenges caused by the widespread forestry work in the 70’s and 80’s, again many of her earlier pictures are simply beautiful.
Arnatt was also involved in the work about Dean Forest that was commissioned by Forestry Commission at the same time as that of Godwin. His work is difficult to track down, but the images I have seen ( in ‘I’m a Real Photographer‘)seem to fall more into the camp of the land is for use by industry, in contrast to Godwin’s more bucolic images (Arnatt, Hurn and Grafik, 2007).
and so we reach right around the circle to the original quote
Adams is the quintessential American photographer showing the beauty and wonder of the forest. A good example of his work is shown in the book ‘An Old Forest Road’ (Adams, 2017) which concentrates on barely visible paths in woodland, lit by seemingly random gleams of light. These pictures make you want to wander endlessly, exploring for no purpose other than to see the trees.
Interestingly, with the exception of Wendelski, all these images are in black and white. Some of this is because this was the accepted use when there were taken (Godwin and Arnatt) but some, like those of Adams are very recent. Is this because of the general idea that ‘art’ images should be in monochrome, because the more recent photographers are paying homage to the older ones, or simply because the colour green does not always print well? Certainly, monochrome does give some stunning images and shows the detail well. It also becomes difficult to tell simply by looking at an image of a forest when it was taken, this century or earlier. Monochrome tells the mythos of a forest well.
I started by taking images of forestry works when travelling around Scotland. Most have been taken close to me in Fife, but some were taken as far north as Fort William. In spite of this it is difficult to identify the place from the images and they become a generic series of Scottish forest images. The majority of the images were taken in the summer and early autumn, some taken in winter, again this is difficult to tell from the images, as although the light is different the dark green of the pine trees does not vary much across the year. This would not have been the case if I had been concentrating on deciduous trees.
I spent a considerable time deciding on whether to go with monochrome images, as was prevalent on the examples above, and discussed this at length with both my tutor, and the Scottish OCA group at our December meeting. Eventually I decided to use colour images, as some of them, such as the cut logs, stood out in colour and gave more information, and, even though the work was influenced by Godwin and Adams, I felt that colour was best for telling my own story.
Adams, R. (1996). Beauty in Photography. New York, NY: Aperture, p.14.
Adams, R. (2017). An Old Forest Road. Koln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walter Konig.
Arnatt, K., Hurn, D. and Grafik, C. (2007). I’m a real photographer. London: Chris Boot, pp.38 – 41.
Godwin, F. (1986). The Secret Forest of Dean. [Bristol]: Redcliffe [for] Arnolfini [and the] Forestry Commission.
A picture contains a story, not always the whole story, but enough clues that you can infer or imagine what the artist was intending. A good story can be read several times, a magical one never looses its appeal.
In the Cartier-Bresson image Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare the eye returns repeatedly to the point at which the foot almost, but not quite, touches the reflection below. Is he jumping or running? Where is he going? Is it a man in a hurry – or a boy playing? If you took the same image today was that a female figure? A hundred stories are possible.
Illuminance – described as an ‘exploration of the extraordinary in the mundane’ (Aperture,2011) or ‘a mix of intimacy and deceptively casual observation’ (O’Hagan, 2011) is a photobook by Rinko Kawauchi. The cover shows a rose bright to the point where all colour and detail is lost, against a vibrant maroon background. It somehow retains the essence of a rose and allows the imagination to recreate any rose, with the luscious scent, and warmth of a garden in a summer evening. Technically, one could consider the image grossly overexposed, but it does not matter. The rose is still there.
Hiroshima Sugimoto’s theatre images share the same aura of infinite possibilities. What film was playing? Who was watching it? Was I there?
These two images were taken on the same night, at the same gig, of the same person, from the same vantage point. One shows the person as a portrait; the other implies his presence by the outline of light though his hair. The information that I am at a rock gig is conveyed by both – but one gives the detail, the other the feeling. Which is ‘better’? Which carries more information? It depends what you are wanting from the image. I would print the colour one as a reminder of the night, but the monochrome one was wanted by the musician for his personal records.
This image is from the series ‘The Coal Coast’ by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen. It was originally shown at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in 2003, and published in book format as ‘The Coal Coast’. The image is taken on the east coast of England, in Durham, and shows a discarded section of mine duct on the beach, looking remarkably like an enormous snail shell. The rest of the beach is desolate and deserted. The Durham coast has had a long history of coal mining, and for many years the spoil heaps and the rubbish were simply dropped onto the beach, building the surface up several feet above its original level. The coal industry is now finished and the remnants on the beach are slowly being removed by both man and the sea. The broken mine duct stands as a metaphor for the destruction of the environment by man and the loss of a way of life. It is still visible, as it is both large and a good distance from the edge of the sea, however, over time, it too will vanish.
This image immediately reminded me of the similar history of mining along the Fife coast where I live. Much environmental destruction was wrought over the years, however the traces of that are now only visible to those who are aware of the history of the area and know what they are looking at. My image is made as a response partly to the internal context of the image – unexpected things seen on the beach, but mainly to the external context of the history of the area and the effect on the local population and job availability.
This image shows remnants of the broken down mine washrooms, that were left on the beach. The tide is high and gradually working at smoothing and polishing them. Eventually they will also disappear, or simply become unrecognisable. They stand, at present, as a reminder of times past, work lost, and also the loss of many lives in the mines that ran under the sea here.
Konttinen, S. (2003). The Coal Coast. Newcastle upon Tyne: AmberSide.
While thinking about an image to use for Exercise 5.2 (homage) I went back over several of the exhibitions I had visited recently. When looking at the images, one by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen from the Coal Coast series struck me and I remembered that there is some unusual debris on part of the coast in Fife near Torryburn. Oddly enough, there is the usual beach flotsam and jetsam but there is also a stretch of about 200 metres of coast that is strewn with old bricks and sanitary-ware (broken up large pieces of ceramic sinks). The local mythology – which I haven’t been able to confirm – is that it comes from the destroyed wash-houses of one of the local pits, and was put on the beach at that point to stop erosion. There is no logic to why the erosion should be particularly bad just there, and I suspect the truth is that it was just dumped, although that is odd in itself, as there is no road nearby and the shore is very gradually shelving for at least a hundred metres, so you couldn’t get a boat large enough to bring the rubble in close enough.
I felt that there was a possibility of doing my homage shot on the beach as there are several possible links with the image I was thinking of, so I went back over both the exhibition images as a whole and re-thought about it and the accompanying film which I have discussed in more detail in the blog post below.
Coal mining in Fife has a long tradition, with coal having been dug since the thirteenth century and the Fife coalfields were the largest in Scotland. Many ran under the Forth and were very deep. The nearest pit to this stretch of coast would have been the Valleyfield pit which closed in 1978. There is little surface evidence left of this extensive underground industry except the occasional pit-head and the endless bings (spoil heaps). The last deep coal mine at Longannet, which stretched well under the Firth of Forth was closed in 2002 after flooding. There continue to be ongoing attempts at open-cast mining, which scar the countryside and cause aggressive debate.
I have been to this beach on many occasions, and also to the pit-head further along the coast at the Seafield Colliery however have never taken any images of the debris, so I went back this weekend at high tide, and again at low tide to look at the area and the surrounding coast.
Setting the scene:
The chimney in the distance is part of Longannet power station, which is now disused. At low tide the mud flats stretch out for about a hundred metres, although I would not advise walking on them, as the tide can come in extremely fast, and much of it forms quicksand.
The surrounding flora (winter variants):
There is a wide variety of wildflowers and bushes along the edge of the coast here and they attract thousands of birds, many of which are protected species.
Part of the rubble is made up of bricks that come from the local brickworks and are stamped with the source name: Lochgelly, Bowhill, Hill of Beath, Lochside. More evidence of an industrial past now gone.
It remains a mystery as to how the sanitary-ware reached this spot – and why in such a localised and inaccessible (except by foot) point.