There are five or six forest walks that I do regularly. These are the primary sites of my landscape art. I carry out my inspections, have a quiet word with the trees as befits my position, track the wildlife, keep a keen eye on the state of the paths, formulating various punishments for horse riders, make notes of littering and so forth. The forests have become more interesting the more I walk them and ever more intriguing when I leave the path and head into the depths, which I do more frequently, to take pictures, to film, to think. They're all within less than an hour from my house but I'm not going to say precisely where in case I'm forced to go full redneck on hordes of idiots with camper vans who find out and decide to drive around like plague zombies, choking up the back roads or dumping their litter.
One such walk I call the fairy walk because children and their parents have decorated the trees along the lower half of the walk with small wooden house shapes. These have painted-on doors, windows and other features My daughter tells me that this is also done in and around parts of Galway in the west of Ireland. I can see how young children might imagine their hand-made houses to be a way for the fairies to get in and out of the tree. I used to imagine such things when I was very young.
But now I'm old(er) and before me lies the serious business of making something photographic out of this walk, a walk with its own baked-in narrative. Further on we find small bridges, swings, a gnarly tree, a hut with other wooden structures and enclosures for kids to play. Sadly the hut will have to go because people were making fires - never a good idea in a forest. I mentioned narrative and this is the key to such a project. It's not really about telling a linear illustrated story as such with its plot or dramatic action. In a photographic series the trick for me is to tell a different kind of story by means of the play of forms or colour or depth of field (which are forms themselves), along with the techniques of the photobook learned from accomplished artists. For example, what should follow this image? Should it be on the same page, double spread or overleaf? Then there's the question of getting the framing right, or mixing formats - landscape with square with nearly square because of the need to crop. You'll get the idea from some of the test shots I've gathered together into small groups. Did I ever say that I find photography difficult? Maybe it all falls into place with experience.
I love photobooks (did I mention I have a couple of zines for sale?). I also love visiting photographic galleries but the two experiences are entirely different. On the one hand a day out to the gallery, a social experience, a chance to be sniffy about curators, a coffee and a cake afterwards. On the other hand you get all the prints from an artist's project in one book, often with text (for better or worse) and layered on top of the art in the photography is the art of sequencing which in the best photographers can be as pleasurable as the images themselves. It's an aspiration. So at some point I'd like my Inspector series to find its way into print but there's still a way to go.
Patience or rather time is important in a project like this, whether it comes from virtuous patience or less virtuous procrastination. In my case it has meant that I've seen the walk from all angles and in all weathers and now I can risk saying that I know what I want.
Here's an excerpt from my photography log earlier this year.
..then I went on a very good walk to put into practice some of the ideas I picked up from bits of research, eg photobooks. I did the whole circuit which is a lot (100 photos). Got everything I wanted and more, though I could do more on the ‘empty subject’, for example a fence with background, then something busy in the vicinity, then back to details around the fence, as if the eye was roving (this type of photobook sequencing will be understood better if you watch Alex Soth on his YouTube photobook series)..
There’s always a problem with something when I do photography (actually when I do anything involving decision-making and creativity) and here it’s primarily the depth of field. For these initial shots I used a Fuji X-T3, an excellent mirrorless camera which has a cropped sensor. The lenses are sharp with excellent rendering and they offer some fine distant blurring as you can see from some of the shots but now, having seen the work of some of the large format photographers and some who use very good lenses on a full frame digital cameras, I want to be able to get a sliver of the overall deep field in focus and to move this back and fore till the subject or subjects has the prominence required within a well structured photo. To this end I’ll re-photograph the entire walk, or most of it, using a recently acquired Sony A7riii with a Voigtlander 50mm F2 APO-Lanthar (manual) lens which is probably the most excellent photographic experience I’ve ever had. I wanted initially to replicate some of the shots using a Zenza Bronica ETRS which is a medium format film camera but might wait till late autumn or winter to make my own monochrome prints in the darkroom, possibly as gifts or for round the house. Of which more later.
Yes I know, everything's on the left. Some need reversing.