Zoom Magazine, Issue 258, January 2020.
Zoom Magazine’s Issue 258 showcases a selection of images from Between the Trees and Stars with an extensive interview with Sara Namias.
THE INTERVIEW with Sara Namias, Editor in Chief.
What prompted you to think, and create, in the forests of your country?
I grew up in the New Forest which is a large, ancient woodland in the south of England. I think this is the place that has formed the basis of my identity and my lifelong love of forests. I spent a huge amount of my childhood playing in the woods with my twin sister; building dens, making dams in the streams, learning to forage for wild mushrooms and plants, cycling and walking with our parents. In the early days of my photography I wanted to find a way to bring the forests into my work so that I could spend more time in them again.
I lived in London for the majority of my 20s and 30s and I really struggled with my loss of connection to these wild places. This became a pivotal element in my work. Making forests the focus of my work allowed me to re-immerse myself and to rebuild my relationship with the woods.
You write about a personal relationship with them, why?
Forests are endlessly fascinating to me and I feel most happy in the woods. Entering a woodland brings a deep sense of contentment combined with an alertness and aliveness that I hope I can convey in my images.
The moment you enter the forest it affects you profoundly, you have to slow down, to look around. I always sit down when I first get to the woods, listen to the birds and try to settle into the surroundings but there is always an extra level of awareness, sometimes a snapping twig brings a rush of adrenalin. This mixture of pleasure and fear is what I find so compelling and brings me back again and again.
Forests are also imbued with all sorts of meanings which come to us through history, mythology, stories and tales. They are a metaphor for the unconscious mind. I use the forest as a backdrop or studio space in order to create images which I hope are ambiguous enough to allow the viewer to enter the woods in their own imaginations and to make their own interpretation of the work.
The forest as a photographic studio: tell us how you work on the set, from the idea, to the choice of place of the shooting, to the composition and above all to the lighting, which is fundamental for this so magical atmosphere…
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 walk until I find a place that reflects what I am looking for in the image.
The weather is an important element in creating the right feel for the work; I use only natural light, (with the exception of the Gloaming series) and I often shoot in rain or at twilight to give the depth of shadow detail and dark tones in the foliage that I am usually looking for.
Each piece is made within a day, and I remove all traces of it when I leave, with the exception of the Dwellings series. In this series 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.
I carry my camera and tripod on my back and I’m usually looking for specific types of trees, compositions, dense cover behind the foreground. I tend to choose locations based on particular colours, size of the trees, some kind of visual order that seems to resonate or certain foliage or undergrowth depending on the time of year.
I use a very lightweight kit because my practice involves lots of walking. I use a Pentax 654Z with two lenses and a tripod. I also carry an umbrella that clamps to the tripod so I can work in the rain. I prefer to work in dark, overcast or wet weather so I have to be prepared and I’ve recently started using a bike so that I can travel further. I choose locations based on an instant feeling about a place, it doesn’t work being too rigid beforehand, I try to be flexible and work with what I find.
Being fully engrossed in making, to lose sight and awareness of everything around me and to become completely focused is a truly wonderful feeling. For me the photographic process combined with some form of making, installation or interaction within the woodland does bring this complete engagement with the place I am working in. It is truly absorbing.
I also love the later stages of the photographic process; the making, the editing, the retouching and finalizing the printed output with my lab. I do miss the darkroom and the hands-on tactility of developing and printing, maybe one day I will revisit this.
Do you work alone or in a team?
I am almost always alone when I make my work. Being solitary allows me to concentrate, to think clearly, and to experience the woodland in a more personal way. I need to settle into the space and be quiet in order to find how I’m going to work within it and respond to it.
Do you use special effects or digital processing?
I don’t use special effects, my work is all made in the forest by hand with the exception of the Stars series (in which I overlaid images taken by the Hubble Telescope).
What does it mean to insert the bonfire, the smoke, the stars in these composition?
The fires, the smoke and all other elements in my work are created and photographed within the woodland, with the exception of the Stars series, as I mentioned above, in which constellations and starscape images from the Hubble Telescope were overlaid into forest images.
After editing I make small changes to the digital files such as adjusting contrast and colour castes but I try to stay within the bounds of what would have traditionally been applied in a colour enlarger.
About the point of view you choose, it seems that you want to immerse the viewer in the heart of the forest, wrapped by it. Is this so?
This is absolutely what I hope to achieve with my images, to convey an atmosphere and the experience of being in the woods. I try not to ascribe too much direction in the narrative but to keep a light hand in the hope that the viewer will have a more vivid personal response, to allow their imagination enough space to continue its own narrative.
Our experience of any space is coloured by what we bring to it. The notion of the Forest can be seen as a cultural construct in which myth, fairytales and folk law play a role in forming this conceptualization. The Forest is a place to get lost, it reflects the subconscious, it is full of dark and hidden places. This intrigues me, but it is up to the viewer to read my images any way they wish and I’m always surprised by the varied interpretations. I love how differently people respond to my work, some finding it beautiful and uplifting, others deeply disturbing… it’s all about what the viewer brings to the image.
I think it is impossible to work in the landscape and not be collaborating in some way with ‘the beauty of nature’ but I want to expose the idealized notion of ‘beauty’ for what it is, a façade, a construction. Our perception of landscape is packaged and commodified through the filters of ecology, science, art, leisure, agriculture, folk law and so on, and in this way we try to make sense of the natural world by arranging and managing it. All landscape has become cultural landscape, perhaps more so than ever before with the ecological pressures these wild places now face.
You have won numerous awards, what projects do you have in mind for the future?
I am currently working on a couple of new projects; both are forest based and are concerned with the idea of finding the deep heart of the woods, a place where all paths lead.
I’m shooting one series at the moment because it is very green and lush, and I’ll wait until autumn to resume work on the other which is dark, bordering on night. They may run in tandem with each other or be exhibited separately. There will be lots of decisions to make as the series’ take shape.
Zoom magazine’s ongoing showcase is a real big chance for collectors.
Although a photograph does not need much explanation, we choose to interview our artists to know more about their world and to better understand how they see, think and create their artwork.
In this digital era, plenty are the artists who employ this impalpable medium par excellence.
Here for example we will see the portrays of Sabine Pigalle, the sets of Kristoffer Axén and the still life of Mandy Barker. They are all perfectly embedded in the present time, and this is evident in the type, dimension and numbered editions of their prints.
They have successfully entered the photographic market, a sector which we should protect and preserve respecting the photographers, their work and their contribution to the art world today. The preeminent English artist Rachel Brown who presents her works in this Zoom issue, reveals that she has suffered a case of fraud by the gallerists who were supposed to represent and support her: bad news that always hits me even if it is not so an infrequent case; I especially want to make readers more aware of this problem and also to launch a reprimand to collectors.
In fact, acquiring a contemporary artwork is a precious investment for both the purchaser and the artist: always keep in mind that galleries play a key role here…This is another reason why Zoom team chooses to keep the collection issues exclusively in the printed version. Besides, Zoom can provide correct information about the prices of the photographs thanks to a direct collaboration with gallerists and experts in the field. Inside this Zoom issue, particular attention deserves the Dutch event Haute Photographie. It is a photo fair entirely dedicated to collectors, as explained by the founder Roy Kahmann who is also a collector, an expert and the owner of the namesake galley in Amsterdam. An event that is no less important than Paris Photo.
And speaking of Paris Photo, stay tuned on the new American edition which will be held in spring 2020.
Now it’s time to introduce the protagonists of photography, the poetic prints of Dominique Cahier, Luther Gerlach and Koentjoro, the new splendid body of work by Pieter Henket, the scenarios of Ellie Davies and also Boris Eldagsen. The fans of Japanese photography will approach the specialised gallerists of IBASHO Gallery who today represents more than fifty artists and just as many in its collection.