in secret untrod land of night
hawthorn riding stonebone
waves of an ancient sea
spirits are starlight
At the beginning of the project we knew that we wanted to visit the trees during all of the seasons to experience their landscape in different types of weathers. Feel what they have to endure through the annual cycle of wind, rain, snow and even warm sunshine.
Over the past few months we have been to the Hawthorn in a T-shirt, the Sycamore in full winter gear and the Birch donned in top-to-toe waterproofs (it rained hard and relentlessly that day).
We also knew that we wanted to be with the trees as daylight gave way to the feint light of the moon and stars, and the orange glow from towns beyond the horizons.
Harriet wrote the poem above whilst sitting beneath the Little Asby Hawthorn earlier this month.
I had arrived at the tree earlier than her to set up my camera and wait for the light to go through its subtle changes. With time on my hands I walked along the ridgeline to the west of the tree, tracing the line that separated the limestone pavement and the rough-grazed grass below me.
The deeply cleft stone was filled with small plants protected from the wind and the cutting teeth of the swaledale sheep. In just a short stretch I found four different types of fern plus a host of smaller plants that are yet to be identified. There were also a number of stunted blackthorn, hawthorn and rowan trees tightly hugging the rock forms: wild bonsais tended without thought by the grazing herds.
Back at the tree the light dipped without much fanfare and slowly the stars started to appear. And I started to experiment with timed exposures plus the addition of flashlight and headtorch. My idea was to paint the tree with light, to give it the presence of an important actor on a darkened stage.
Harriet patiently followed my instructions, “fifteen seconds of moving there smoothly followed by a further fifteen playing on the branches to the left”, while I gave definition to the foreground rocks and lit the main trunk.
This is a fitting process to work with the trees: the word Photography derives from two Greek words that roughly translate to mean ‘drawing with light’. That is what we were doing here, drawing over the tree with a series of lights.
Over the course of about 90 minutes I shot about 20 images. Each was checked after exposure and our ‘light-painting’ amended. Very trial and error.
We will visit all of the trees during night-time and see what we come up with. It is another way to get to know the them and the landscape that surrounds each. Another way of creatively responding to them and their space.
N.B. For those interested in the photographic detail the image was exposed for 30 seconds at F5.6 with the ISO set at 1000. It was shot on my Nikon D800 – a brilliant piece of kit.