Ancient Trees at Brampton Bryan Park
I’ve been working on an Ancient Tree project since February 2023. Working in collaboration with landscape artist Richard Gilbert who introduced me to and encouraged me to appreciate and photograph these wonderful ancient, veteran and notable trees.
During the Winter months of 2023, in January, February, March and December, I made numerous visits to Brampton Bryan Park in North Herefordshire to capture the unique, stunning beauty and mystery of these trees. At first, orientation and discovery, getting to know them, the landscape, the light and atmosphere. Although exploring visually, it was also about being aware of the smells, sounds, feel and atmosphere of this ancient parkland. The first visits in February were on cold winter days, with dull grey skies and soft light. Seeing some of these ancient trees made me think about age and ageing, most of them are somewhat older than me, and will most likely outlive me by some margin! Their broad, twisted trunks, bulbous burls (a result of some form of stress such as an injury or a viral or fungal infection), stag-headedness (dead, antler-like branches extending beyond the crown), and bark, bearing the ‘scars’ of age became my photographic subjects.
The first images were made with a digital camera using different lenses, and were taken in colour. However, something was amiss. I started converting some of these colour images into monochrome, and noted some improvement as they became more graphic, and, without the influence of colour they took on a different look. Researching other photographers approaches to photographing trees and woodlands, I found great beauty and a more graphic quality in their black and white film work.
Influenced by these experiments and my research, a breakthrough came when I started using black and white film. Initially, 35mm film cameras, then progressing to a medium format film rangefinder camera that I’ve had for the last 25 years. This camera led me to work in a more considered way, slower, and with greater awareness of composition and light. Creating the image within the square viewfinder became easier whilst using one lens with a limited angle of view. These limitations seemed to allow me to concentrate on what was important.