It was a place where wild campers, in the know, lit fires, cooked food and laid their head. It is also a special place to see the stars. But now the shelter of the trees has been removed and the small number that remain, a shadow of their former selves, are being buffeted by the strong wind – less stable, exposed and without the support of their neighbours and the collective spirit of the forest. Some bear the scars of a lucky escape having been damaged by the tree felling machinery used to remove the rest.
As I sit taking in the landscape, I start to realise that Heidegger’s terms “ready to hand” and “present at hand” in terms of my photographic practice do not only refer to the fracture of the land but also to the loss of its previous uses by so many people. It is no longer a sheltered spot for campers, a place to enjoy a picnic or rest during a dog walk. In fact, I have barely seen a soul since returning to photograph the aftermath of the tree felling.
This morning I feel I am in a personal space, mourning what was, rather than embracing what is. I am in the past, not the present. In an effort to focus on the present and my image-making, I listen to a combination of nature’s sounds with classical music. I find it uplifting and soon become lost in the music and the landscape. I work methodically, first taking single shots of the fallen tree on the beach and then multiple exposure images of the remaining trees from a different perspective. I focus on the emerging root systems, and the devastation of broken boughs and fallen fruits. My intention is to capture the destruction of the landscape and the ghostly scene that remains, with many of the trees bearing the hallmarks of having had a lucky escape from the demise of their neighbours. My work is about the loss of the connectedness of the forest and the new reality of isolation.
I am so engrossed in my work that I fail to see the misty rain moving ever closer. I wipe my lens from time to time. I am surprised as I return my camera to the bag that it is soaking wet. I pack up quickly and retrace my steps along what now resembles a road rather than the narrow path I used to follow. The felling of the trees has changed the weather patterns – no longer am I sheltered, or can seek shelter, by the trees on both sides and no longer do the trees protect me from the prevailing westerly winds. I realise quite how heavy the rain is and return to the car drenched and cold.
I enjoyed my time in the different location and believe that the activation of music helped me to focus on my work however, I know that having chosen a standard 24-70mm lens restricted my ability to capture the height and majesty of some of the trees. Having said that, had I used a wider lens then I would have lost the towering presence of the taller trees and the immediacy of the devastation. I need to return with a different set of lenses, my music and a positive attitude that I am getting closer to my goal.