In the woods, the trees

In his latest newsletter, Craig Mod briefly touches upon (in a quote from another writer) that the woods are untouchable in words or pictures because of their complexity. This is why, notes Craig, we more often photograph vistas and openings instead. He does point out though that rain or mist brings woodland into relief, traces the contours and depth of some of those seemingly infinite layers.

I find woods can only be reliably photographed on rainy days, mist abounding, giving shape and depth to the otherwise shapeless and boundless.

This all served to remind me of some of the days Megan and I had when we walked the South Downs Way last year. So much of our route was under a blanket of fog, with visibility at times down to less than 100m or so. It made for some quite excellent and otherworldly views and treks, particularly as we trudged along ancient hollow lanes, as shown above.

Some of my favourite photographs from that work were taken, ironically, on days with poor visibility. This was all in striking contrast to our expectations of views to the coast and beyond, particularly as so much of the walk takes place along a ridge line.

I also read a brief summary by Om yesterday in which he tries to distill his growing love and knowledge of photography. One sentence in particular struck me in which he described that (if I interpreted his point correctly) using film taught him that he doesn’t need photography to be pin sharp as it is only a representation of what we see, and we do not see crystal clear all the time anyway.

And it made me think that unfortunately this is something I sometimes forget and I often see photography as a tool for recording a scene in exactitude – a record of the scene, and one in which I want all lines to be sharp and all colours replicated perfectly. And sometimes this is fine and is a good use of my time. It is nice to look back on a (literally) photorealistic image of a place to help transport me back there.

But increasingly I realise that some of my shots that are (perhaps accidentally) not pin sharp or technically perfect but are nonetheless beautiful as a standalone image, and the ones that stick in the mind.

I think there is room for both types of image in my photography and I will continue to just see where the mood takes me in the moment.

Back to Craig Mod’s point on writing about (and photographing) woodlands – I found it to especially interesting to read this in between sessions of reading John Lewis-Stempel’s THE WOOD, a gloriously lyrical diarised memoir of a year spent tending to Cockshutt Wood.

His writing flits effortlessly between light, delicate snatches of poetic writing and multiple paragraphs teasing out the history of biology of an aspect of woodland life. It’s a very enjoyable read.

Lewis-Stempel manages to cover so many aspects of the woodland in this book that I have to believe that it is possible to adequately describe woodland in writing – it’s just that you probably need a full year and about 300 pages in which to really do it justice.

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