Kinsley Wood sits on the Welsh Border above the town of Knighton. The Forestry Commission acquired the woodland in 1952 and have been continuing the long tradition of managing the woodland for timber production. Kinsley Wood, which consists of mixed woodland areas of predominantly Larch and Douglas Fir with birch, oak and beech deciduous components, is earmarked for restoration back to oak woodland over the next 50 years.
Photographing woodlands can be notoriously difficult. They often present a chaotic jumble of branches and tree trunks and present a subject brightness range that is often far greater than that of the dynamic range of the camera. As Ansel Adams put it, “One problem with forest scenes is that random blank areas of sky seen through the trees can confuse the spatial & tonal continuum of the composition. In reality such interruptions are logical & accepted but in a photograph they can be extremely distracting.”
Yet despite this, woodlands offer wonderful photographic opportunities. In photographing Kinsley Wood my aim is to create structure out of the chaos. Ever changing light presents a kaleidoscope of light and shade, textures and contrasts. Patterns emerge from the interplay between light and the woodlands natural structure, patterns which are enhanced and reinforced through textural and total contrasts. In order to extract the best images it is important that I get to know the woodlands, repeatably visiting over several months, getting to know the woodlands in different lighting, at different times of the day and different times of the year. Edward Weston advised a friend to “go out with his camera and study light at first hand. To look at the same scene at every hour of day -not a glance -but look with understanding at every hour of every day, until he learnt to see objects in terms of their light quality.”
This approach, visiting the woodland regularly, spending time in getting to know its many moods intimately, is key to images I am attempting to produce.
Its also important to remember that photographic images should not just be record shots, simple reflections of the reality of the scene presented to the camera. The images should reflect how the photographer feels about the subject being photographed. The photographer Eliot Porter said that, “The essential quality of a photograph is the emotional impact that it carries, which is a measure of the author's success in translating into photographic terms his own emotional response to the subject.”
Thus I need to identify and arrange patterns of light and shade, of structure and form, in such a way as to reflect and portray not just a physical representation of the scene but also a reflection of how I feel about the location I am photographing.
As Don McCullin said “Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”
One particular area of the forest that I have found offers the best potential is at the internal boundaries within the forest. These boundaries are a result of the establishment of management compartments, discreet areas within the forest defined for the purposes of management. As one compartment is either thinned or felled it creates a contrast with the adjacent areas, often presenting interesting contrasts between the darker, dense conifer components and the more open, newly cleared areas. The more open nature of these areas also creates more interesting opportunities for the interplay between light and shadow, whilst the reemerging ground flora creates interesting textural contrasts.
The image below is typical of such areas, an internal boundary between the dense larch plantation on the right the more open area on the left, which consists of an area of previously felled plantation which is now being returned to a more natural deciduous habitat. Obviously the first thing that caught my eye was the quality of the light, a late afternoon sun providing strong, low angled light through the larches, highlighting the patterns and textures of the deciduous trees with the young beech tree making an obvious central focal point.
Yet there is a lot more to the image. Being involved in landscape conservation and management for many years I have always been aware of a social consciousness regarding the damage being done to British landscapes through the wide-scale planting of conifer plantations, mainly in upland, mountainous areas. These plantations were seen as an unnatural blot on the landscape, dark forbidding places with little or no wildlife value. My personal thoughts and understanding of these issues obviously influence the way in which I see and react to the scene being photographed. With this image, whilst the nature of the lighting initially attracted my attention, I was also attract by idea of the sunlight shinning through and penetrating the darkness of the larch plantation and of the idea of the new growth of the deciduous trees reacting to this sunlight and as it were fighting back against the encroachment of the conifer plantations. In many ways I see this as a reflection of the change in government policy towards the management of conifer plantations and a move towards more mixed woodland habitats.
Despite the worst fears of the conservationists, little real damage has been done and today conifer plantations form an important aspect of many landscapes, having in many instances also become valuable wildlife habitats. As always, given enough time nature wins out, although in this case greatly assisted by changes in the economics of forestry management and timber production.
Further images from this project can be seen in the Kinsley Wood Gallery