1) You have been photographing in UK woods for a long time. How did you get personally so closed to these forests and where are roots of this fascination?
I grew up in the New Forest which is a large, ancient woodland in the south of England. I spent a huge amount of my childhood playing in the forest with my twin sister; building dens,making dams in the streams, learning to forage wild mushrooms and plants, cycling and walking with our parents. The forest was a very important part of my life and I wanted to find a way to bring it back into my adult life. I live in London and it is so easy to become caught up in an urban environment, losing your connection with the wild places and finding them alien when you return. This is the crux of my work, it allows me a way to re-immerse myself in the woods, to play and create, and to rebuild my relationship with the woods.
2) What is special on UK forests? Have you ever tried to make photos of another forests, e.g. rain forests? Would it be a challenge for you or not interesting at all?
I have mainly worked in the New Forest because I know it so well and it is a hugely varied and inspiring landscape, but I have also worked in Dorset in the south west of England, Llanberis in Wales and Fontainebleau in France. I would love to work in all sorts of different forests and hope to do so in the future. Each new place brings different ideas and ways to work so it is very exciting to discover what a new place will bring out in my process.
3) Your forests or landscapes are highly adjusted to your idea/image of the forest, you somehow personalize or idealize them. How starts such kind of dialogue between you and the nature? Do you have any idea what do you want to express in the photo and then you try to find a perfect spot or you are just walking and let the nature inspire you? (Describe a little your working steps.)
My inspiration comes from the woods, from walking and looking.
The process starts with a great deal of sketching, note-making and lists. I draw up detailed diagrams about the concept, the materials, the type of woodland, the atmosphere and intention for the new series. I go into the woods with everything I need to make the piece, and I find a place that reflects what I am looking for in the image. The weather is also an important element in creating the right feel for the work; I often shoot in rain or at twilight.
Each piece is made within a day, and I remove all trace when I leave, with the exception of the Dwellings series. In this body of work I built large scale ‘dens’ or shelters which involved a very physical process of constructing a frame and then weaving it with materials gathered from the surrounding area. I then left each dwelling for a period of time before returning weeks later to photograph it again. The effect of time was an important element of the project. I wanted to find out how my relationship to these built structures altered during my absence.
4) You studied photography, so I ask you a little theoretical question. Do you consider yourself more photograph or land-artist? Do you see any borders? Why you do not do land-art-installation?
I make landscape photography fused with various ‘made’ objects that I create within a woodland setting. These are photographed and the resulting image becomes the final piece. These interventions range from pathways weaving through the woods made from craft materials, bracken, flour, and coloured leaves and paper, to large scale forest dwellings built from materials gathered from the forest floor. Each object has a very short life, and is not the artwork but a means to creating a photographic image. I use my work to explore my relationship with the natural world, how it is layered with cultural meaning and mythmaking that masks, obscures or overlays my experience of the forest. I try to find my own way to exist in the landscape by gaining a more personal level of interaction, inscribing something of myself within these forest spaces.
I have a background in sculpture and in photography and both play a role in my work but I let people make up their own minds about how to classify the work.
5) It leads another question. If you make kind of installation in the forest, do you clean it immediately or how long ist stays in the forest?
Yes I always remove it at the end of the day, with the exception of the Dwellings series (see above). My aim is to create as little impact as possible on the places I work.
6) From the practical point of view, I was wondering, how long it took you for example to do one dwelling? Or have you really had all that ferns in the „Come with me“ serie? Or is some trick behind, you can reveal? Don’t tell me, that you spent so much time, physical work and effort on one shot. ☺
Each piece is made within one day. There are no tricks. Each piece is made and photographed and dismantled. The bracken (ferns) in Come with Me 7 were individually gathered and inserted into the forest floor.
The Stars series is a slightly different way of working because I used images from the Hubble Telescope within the forest landscapes.
7) It must have been fun doing such a childish thing as dwellings are. Have you ever had any funny incident doing this?
It was great fun. I was pregnant whilst making this series so towards the end I had some help from my partner to lift the heavy tree trunks which were used to make the framework.
8) Frankly speaking I first noticed your work when I saw Dwellings somewhere. And this topic fascinates me. In smaller scale I also build dwellings for elves with my kids, playing with the mysterious side of the forest. Is dwelling for you more kind of mystery, or escape to the childhood or search of refuge, sanctuary?
The Dwellings series is about revisiting those experiences of making and building in the woods, combined with a curiosity about the way those structures take on an identity of their own when they exist in the woods for a period of time.
In this body of work I built large scale dens or shelters which involved a very physical process of constructing a frame and then weaving it with materials gathered from the surrounding area. I then left each structure for a period of time before returning weeks later to photograph it. The effect of time was an important element of the project. I wanted to find out how my relationship to these built structures altered during my absence.
I explain it here in my artist’s statement:
“The Dwellings series explores the artist’s changing relationship to built structures within the forest landscape, developing on previous work to examine the notion that we use landscape to find a sense of our own identity.
The woodland Dwellings are made using a variety of traditional and improvised building techniques and created from materials gathered from the forest floor. Once completed, the structures function as signifiers of a creative process in which the artist inscribes and places herself temporarily and non-invasively within the forest landscape. These nest-like structures, reminiscent of the fairytale hovel, are a form of mark-making and explore the process of building in order to provide shelter, sanctuary, seclusion, and play.
After a period of time each structure is revisited and photographed. The Dwellings take on their own personal identity, presence and potential. Any sense of ownership ceases to exist when construction of the Dwelling is completed; it then becomes part of the forest, and an entity in its own right. During the period of absence it is transformed into a shrine or totem of a past activity, and in doing so takes on a subtly threatening otherness in its vacancy; a persona that is both disturbing and intriguing to its creator.
9) Your highly appreciated serie from the last year is the serie Stars. Can you explain, how this was technically done? (I have already read is somewhere, so I suppose it is not a secret.)
The Stars, 2014 series combines star-scapes taken by the Hubble Space Telescope with forest landscapes. The series considers the fragile nature of our relationship with the natural world by interposing images of the intangible and unknown universe with these ancient forests. It creates a new experience of the woodland, one which draws the viewer into a mystery at the heart of the forest, and offers the potential for discovery and exploration.
11) Do you have any source of inspiration outside the forest? I mean in literature, arts, photography, even music?
I find most inspiration in literature. Books I have read and found inspiring recently include a short story called the Earl King by Angela Carter and The Man Whom the Trees Loved by Algernon Blackwood. I also read lots of mountaineering and climbing books, accounts of incredible ascents in the Alps and Himalayas. Although these books aren’t about forests per se they explore the power of the natural world and different relationships to it.
12) You are nowadays a successful photographer represented in bid galleries. And lots of our readers are young photographer at the beginning of their careers. What, do you thing, was the breaking point in your career? Some photography/serie, that was noticed by somebody important or some of you exhibitions, participation in some competition?
Thank you, its funny, I don’t think of myself in that way but it is certainly nice to hear!
I think it has been a gradual process, I can’t think of one particular event that represents a turning point, but it is a culmination of a lot of hard work and various different events. My first solo exhibition was at Brucie Collections in Kiev. The reason the gallery contacted me initially is because an image from the Smoke and Mirrors series had won a place in the PX3 Paris Photo Awards. This was one example amongst many where one thing leads to another. For this reason I always tried from the very beginning to put my work out in the world in a variety of ways: entering competitions, holding small group shows, submitting my work to calls for submissions from galleries and International Photography Festivals around the world, and to maintain and update my website and online presence regularly.
It is very hard to get your work in front of the people you want to see it, especially early on, so entering competitions and calls is a great way to get your work in front of curators and gallery owners even if you don’t win.
13) I have not seen people in your portfolio? You do not photograph people at all or you just do not publish it?
Before and during my MA in Photography (2006-2008) I used people in my images, often in urban and architectural settings. I was interested in exploring the different balances of power and gaze within the image and the relationship between the camera, the viewer and the subjects. I came to realise that I could explore these issues without having people in the work. I love the solitude of working alone, and my work has evolved to become about my own relationship to the natural landscape and is now a way for me to explore and mediate my own place within it.
14) (this answer will be published without question at the end of the interview, just for info) What camera/lenses/other important equipment do you use?
I like to have a small kit so that I can walk easily in the woods. I have a backpack with a Pentax 645Z, 40-80mm Lens, Manfrotto Tripod, camera Remote Control, Cable Release. Also essential – heavy gloves and knee pads, wet weather gear, umbrella for sheltering the camera, my VW Campervan and a flask of tea.
Issue 24, Autumn 2015
Photo essay and interview with FOTO MAGAZINE, POLAND.