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.
Godwin, F. (1990). Our Forbidden Land. London: Cape, pp.138 – 142.
Koudelka, J. (1992). Josef Koudelka: The Black Triangle • Magnum Photos. [online] Magnum Photos. Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/newsroom/environment/josef-koudelka-black-triangle/ [Accessed 8 Dec. 2017].
Wendelski, M. (2017). BEYOND THE FOREST | MARC WENDELSKI. [online] Wendelski.be. Available at: http://wendelski.be/?page_id=11 [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].
Wendelski, M. (2017). Marc Wendelski | LensCulture. [online] LensCulture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/mwendelski [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].