Ancient Trees

Together with landscape painter Richard Gilbert, I have been working on this Ancient Tree project since February 2023. I’m grateful to him for introducing me to this wonderful landscape and obtaining permission from the landowner to return to photograph these Ancient, Veteran and Notable Trees time and time again.

Over the course of February to April 2023, I made six visits to this location in North Herefordshire to capture its unique and stunning beauty and mystery. At first, it was orientation and discovery, getting to know the trees, 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 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.

Those early shoots were made with a digital camera and a number of lenses, taken in colour. However, it wasn’t really working, something was amiss. So I started converting some of these colour images into monochrome. There was some improvement they looked better, more graphic, without the influence of colour they took on a different look.

When 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. The likes of Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Ansel Adams, although working in large format used the qualities of monochrome film to great effect.

The breakthrough for me came when I started using black and white film also. First using 35mm film cameras, then progressing to a medium format film rangefinder camera that I’ve had for the last 25 years, which has had little use, since high quality digital cameras became affordable.

Using it lead me to work in a more considered way, slower, more aware 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.

“Ancient trees are precious. There is little else on Earth that plays host to such a rich community of life within a single living organism.” Sir David Attenborough

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