I asked people what the woods meant to them. Based on the notion of ‘we are what we do’, I was hoping to hear both about projections of identity onto the place and how the place shaped identities. I had a number of responses through social media and email, plus through talking with the people I met during the shoot. Some of the comments included personal information, which I have distilled to the general as I would like any words to enable others to project and imagine their own stories. Reading the words, they also remind me of wishes.
While the woods are used mainly as a place of relaxation and exercise, when I researched the subject, I thought about a dark undercurrent. Humanity has a troubled and destructive relationship with the environment – the very things we hold dear and sustain us are being damaged or destroyed by our own addiction to consumption and material wealth. I discuss this in my research, including the warning from the Woodlands Trust. I suspect these issues are not front of mind when people are enjoying the woods – there is no obvious sign of trouble as it comes in small drips, until one-day it is too late to reverse the damage. I would like this project to draw attention to this ‘other’. This course has been concerned with self and other people but not so much with our projection of self into the environment (there has to be a line somewhere I know). It does provide a segue into my concerns about Landscape.
My original intention was to use some of these words to caption some woodland photographs alongside the portraits. But I could only use a few and they would perhaps lose their impact. I may experiment with overlaying them over a forest image.
Dark undercurrent words
The woodlands have sustained us and shaped our identities for all of human history. The hand of man and woman marks our landscape, with traces of where our ancestors have been and where we have been. Woods were once a picture of the sublime, rustling a fear of being lost amongst the dense trunks or becoming prey to wolves that roamed there. They are a place of stories for ancient and modern cultures – from the Tree of Life to the Whomping Willow, and from the Greek god Pan to Robin Hood.
‘Trees and woods filter our air, cool our cities, purify our water and enrich our soil. Yet the damage done to them has now reached catastrophic levels, and our plant and animal species are declining at an alarming rate.’ (Woodlands Trust). The photographer Joel Sternfeld observed that the sublime depicted in old paintings of nature seems innocent when compared to the ‘calamitous sublime’ we now face.
When we walk away from our enjoyment of the woodlands, I hope we can remember their silent cry for help. The photographs in the booklet invite reflection on what the woods mean and what each of us might do to protect them.