“Trees which move some to tears of joy, are in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way . . . in the eyes of a person of imagination, nature is imagination itself . . .”                                  

(Letter from William Blake to the Reverend Dr J Trusler, 23 August 1799).

In my last post, I referred to a series of damascene moments in my practice-led research.  My focus here refers to a large number of posts over twelve months, spanning a Covid lockdown in Scotland, where the forest became my place for reflection and calm, and its destruction early in the second year of my PhD. The Among Trees Case Study referred to in my thesis became a formative period that served to develop both my practice and research and where the two strands merged through reflection.  A significant moment in itself as I began to understand how practice-led research develops knowledge and understanding.

The Broadford Forest during lockdown was a very quiet place and I found myself taking sanctuary deep among the trees.  I was concerned, even though I had been informed my photography was legitimate that were I to meet others they might take a different view.  I began to spend more time with the trees and reflect on spatial persistence and subject commitment as drivers of my practice, along with building camera skills such as using slow shutter speeds allowing nature to paint its pictures, intentional camera movement and multiple exposure techniques.  These ideas developed through practice became some of the early signifiers within the fledgling Onion Diagram that became the major output of my research.

The images I produced during this period marked a departure from my previous photographic work and a change to a longer lens (70-200mm) as I began to capture the interiority and connectedness of the forest.

Among Trees 68 – Alison Price, March 2021

Among Trees 69 – Alison Price, March 2021

Among Trees 63 – Alison Price, March 2021

Among Trees 71 – Alison Price, March 2021

I found that by moving to a longer lens and spending time I was able to reflect what I later termed a sense of shared reality in my images.  As my photographic work developed, I began fascinated by what Peter Wohlleben (2017) and (2021) referred to as the hidden life and heartbeat of trees reflecting a physical connectedness concealed to the human eye.  This connectedness is also described in Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life (2020).  Robert Macfarlane in his Introduction to Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain (1977) describes a connection between humans and nature as “a continual traffic between the outer landscapes of the world and the inner landscapes of the spirit.” (Macfarlane in Shepherd 1977 pxxi).  Shepherd called this two-way process “an accession of interiority.”

In the early months of my second year, I visited the forest except there were no trees.  In this journal,(2019) I wrote:

“In early December, I returned to the trees, except there were no trees.  The forest where I had done all my photographic work had been felled in its entirety.”

 And then in January 2022 as follows:

“Today I returned with a heavy heart and a sense of trepidation to record for the first time the change in the landscape.  I see this visit as a reconnaissance, taking record shots of a scene I will return to when the pain subsides, and I conceive of a way in which to pay homage to a space in which I have spent so much time.”

Fracture of the Forest 1 – Alison Price, January 2022

Fracture of the Forest 2 – Alison Price, January 2022

Fracture of the Forest 14 – Alison Price, January 2022

However, through this scene of physical destruction and desolation emerged several insights that were to develop my thinking in terms of not only physical entanglement but also ontological entanglement and the possibility that I and the trees might be connected through a shared reality.  It was also an opportunity for me to experience fracture in a personal and photographic sense.  Ryan’s Star Diagram (2019) included a strategy of fracture as a means of approaching essence but until that point, my ability to capture it had eluded me.  In Ryan’s words:

“. . . when we gaze on the break [of the hammer, for example, the essence of the object emerges into view.”

                                          (Ryan, 2019 p44).

Heidegger (1953) explained fracture as a sudden dislocation in “tool being”.  In the forest, I see fracture as a loss of its primary purpose.  At the moment the trees were felled, their beauty, their shelter, and their presence in the social and physical network of the woodland were lost.  However, what comes into view is the quality of the timber, its flammability, and its usefulness in lighting fires and as a raw material for furniture.  These are not necessarily unknown qualities, but aspects previously hidden from view.  The camera as an instrument allows us to break time and reveal aspects of the Real Qualities of the subject not available to human cognition as we cannot freeze time.  In a moment of insight and with a heavy heart, I realised through my sadness:

“that death fractures presence and in that moment of Being sheds the constraints of time and space.  And in its passing, we catch a glimpse of the reality of the trees that were, and their relationships with one another, other species, and us . . .”.

As I worked through my pain, through my practice, I realised that in the loss of one reality, a new reality of this landscape had emerged.  My photography became an opportunity to record the inevitable changes and contingencies in the landscape, to reflect on my feelings and thoughts and to consider the new realities that had emerged.  The topography of the landscape was much clearer and undulating than was evident when the trees were standing and the few trees that remained became vulnerable without the support of others around.  This reality came to the fore a few weeks later as two storms lashed the exposed headland – the remaining trees were felled by natural forces.

Summary of Insights

There were several insights that emerged from the Among Trees practice period.  Some registered in the moment and others sowed seeds for reflection that subsequently became important in my practice-led research.

  1. The change to a longer lens provided the insights that I was able to bring the forest together and in closer proximity to me.
  2. The project embedded my understanding of the recursive nature of my research method.
  3. Nature introduced me to the fracture of Being.
  4. The images taken in the aftermath of the felling led me to insights about my past as a police photographer.
  5. The signifiers of interoception and exteroception subsequently included in the Onion Diagram had their roots in this period of practice.
  6. The seeds were sown through an understanding of physical entanglement in nature for the conception of the term ontological entanglement of Being later in my PhD.

 

References

Heidegger, M. (1953). Being and Time. New York, State University of New York Press.

Ryan, R. J. (2019). Intuition, Expertise and Judgement in the Assessment of Photographic Images. School of Business and the School of Art. Cheltenham, University of Gloucestershire. PhD: 492.

Sheldrake, M. (2020). Entangled Life – How Fungi make our Worlds, Change our Minds, and Shape our Futures. London, Random House.

Shepherd, N. (1977). The Living Mountain. Edinburgh, Canongate Books.

Wohlleben, P. (2017). The Hidden Life of Trees – What they Feel, How They Communicate:  Discoveries from a Secret World. London, William Collins.

Wohlleben, P. (2021). The Heartbeat of Trees – Embracing our Ancient Bond with Forests and Nature. Munich, Random House.

 

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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