Britain’s native trees face many threats, but climate change is perhaps the most profound. Just a one or two degrees rise in temperature could see the loss of many of our best loved species and as a consequence the habitats they provide.
The Hawthorn, sometimes described as the olive tree of the north, is one of the defining trees here at Ffynnonofi, where I live in West Wales. It is also one of those trees in danger of disappearing should temperatures rise as predicted. These trees have endured the salty winds that come off the sea for centuries and are at the heart of celtic mythology. Their twisted and distorted trunks often defy gravity and tell us everything we need to know about the power and direction of the prevailing winds. Their tight folliage provides cover and habitats for numerous species. In late April, the trees become covered in white or pink blossom. It is the sign that spring has turned to summer. And in late autumn the tree is a mass of red berries providing food for birds. In recent years the berries have become more abundant. This is not due to the health of the species but due to the fall in the number of birds.
I decided to make a photographic record of the Hawthorns as a way of making work about place and to leave some record of the natural fauna for future gererations. I have decontextualised them from their surroundings, like the Bechers did with their industrial structures, and presented them in a grid in order to emphasise their unique sculptural shapes and forms. Just as the Bechers wanted their work to encourage the preservation of the industrial relics they photographed, I’m keen to record our natural living architecture whilst it still exists. It’s more a topographical inventory than pictorial document.
I also made a grid of sixteen wild willow trees that thrive in the wetter parts of the lower fields. They are the complete opposite to the angular fierce Hawthorns. Something attracts me to these sensuous delicate leaved bog lovers. Maybe it’s because they are regarded as ‘weeds’ by farmers and suburban gardeners, or maybe it’s their pale green semi symetrical round forms that appeal to my minimalist tendencies. Richard Mabey, in his book Weeds : The Story Of The Outlaw Of Plants talks of the extraordinary benefits and properties of weeds and what he describes as ‘outlawed’ species. Willow bark, for example, contains natural aspirin and was used for aches and pains and inflammatory conditions by our ancestors.
Both Hawthorn Grid 2016 and Willow Grid 2017 reflect a passion I have developed for these outcast trees and a desire to record their presence in a time of great uncertainty in the natural world. Nature has always been in a state of transition but the transition we are now talking about looks increasingly like extinction for many species. As Olafur Eliasson demonstrates in his serialised images of Iceland, the grid doesn’t have to be a form of urban order. It is also a way to express ideas of time, place, change and in my case, potential loss in nature.← Back