1. You’ve been working in UK forests for the past seven years. What brought you there initially? What has kept you coming back all these years to photograph?
I grew up in the New Forest in the South of England and I spent much of my childhood playing and mountain biking there, building camps and dams and tree houses with my twin sister. I still visit the New Forest regularly to make new work. It is a very varied landscape; it was originally established as William the Conqueror’s deer hunting ground and later the huge oak trees were cut down to build ships to fight the Spanish Armada in the late 1500s. This land was not replanted and much of it became a grazed heathland. However, large areas of the ancient forest still remain and it is a constant source of inspiration. I can’t imagine a time when I will feel I would have exhausted all its possibilities.
2. Do you pick an image from the Hubble telescope first and then pair it to a forest photo, or the other way around? Tell me more about how you figure out how best to combine the two different images in a single photograph.
I make the forest landscape first and find starscapes that will work within it. I work with the composition of the landscape itself, its areas of light and shade, whether there are trees in the centre or a view through to further trees in the background, how the eye travels through the space and how other shapes sit within it.
3. Where are the forests that you’re photographing? Is it all one forest?
I make the majority of my work in the New Forest in Hampshire and Puddleton Forest in Dorset. The Gloaming series was made in Llanberis in North Wales and I recently made some new work in Fontainbleau Forest in France.
4. Tell me more about how these photos demonstrate your feelings of disconnectedness with the natural world.
Growing up and spending so much time in the forest I formed a close relationship to the natural world, but in my early twenties I moved to London and I missed this connection. I feel that these images are less about a disconnectedness with the natural world than an attempt to rebuild that relationship through a process of ‘making’ within these spaces
5. When you photograph in the forest, what’s your process like?
I start by walking and note-making in order to develop the idea and to find the right setting. I make a lot of sketches, diagrams and lists so that I have a fairly clear idea of what I’m going to be doing. I work with a small kit; Pentax 645z or Nikno D3x, tripod, cable release and shutter remote so that I can walk fairly long distances and am able to work alone. Being on my own in the woods is an important part of my practice; it helps me concentrate on the atmosphere of that place. I am able to have a more personal relationship with the woodland and I feel that this allows the images to express how the space makes me feel.
Do you bring lots of lights? Do you drive around? Or are you on foot? What are you looking for when you’re in there?
I use only natural light in all work, with the exception of the Islands and Gloaming series where I use a single light source.
I have a campervan which makes a great base to work from. I leave the van in parking areas in the forest and walk in with my kit in a rucksack, food for the day and the essential flask of tea! I usually look for areas of forest or individual trees that have more forest behind them. That way I can get the dense and enclosed feel that I’m usually looking for. My work is about being in the heart of the forest so I almost never have any sky in my images.
6. What do you hope these photos inspire in viewers?
I hope the viewer can place themselves in the forests and woods in my work, to imagine how that space would make them feel and to create a narrative of their own. In my experience people have quite varied responses and interpretations and I find this a really interesting part of the work.
7. Tell me about what’s involved technically in merging the Hubble image with the forest image.
(I’m going to leave this question out – I try not to explain the technicalities of how I make my work because I think it spoils the mystery and magic of the work – please do send me another question if you need more).
8. How do you get the Hubble images? Are they in the public domain? They are there for everyone to access on the Hubble website. I contacted NASA to make sure I could use the images in my work and they gave me the go-ahead and the correct format to credit Hubble and NASA in my image titles and on my website.