Seeing into the soul of a woodland

I live a short walk from the Hackney Marshes and the tiny Wick Woodland, and one of the beautiful, unpredicted results of being here under lockdown is that I have fallen in love with this vast green space near my house. I’ve always loved and appreciated it — but now I am IN love with it. It’s a real romance. Over the past eight weeks I’ve been getting to know its microenvironments more intimately, the tiny details and hidden paths, the songs and haunts of specific birds, the smell of the trees and flowers and even weather. And the beauty that lies in the daily change and the decay taking place all around me. As I walk and then run through it.

Last Friday I attended a talk on editing and sequencing images for a photobook, which somehow prompted me to take out a Polaroid camera I’d inherited from my sister, to try to clean it up and get it working. I had one pack of film — only 8 images — so the editing would in part need to happen in advance of the picture-taking. But I’ve discovered a real enjoyment for working with enforced limitations and unexpected challenges. (Even though in this case it would include accidentally exposing one of the 8 negatives in the process of recleaning the camera in the middle of the woods — rookie mistake.)

On my Saturday morning run in the woods, I began seeing in ‘frames’, imagined Polaroid photos capturing the magic of the place and space I was traveling through. Everything felt closer to me, both clearer and simultaneously softer. I paused my run more than once in a moment of real joy to take in the forest around me. I returned with the camera late in the afternoon.

I want (?!) to be critical, to think about how the images could be technically improved, but I just can’t. There is something wonderful happening in them as they are. They are much darker than the space I moved through that day, but feel equally truthful. It’s as if the woodland is whispering secret words to me, quietly revealing a part of its inner nature. As if the images were taken through the woodland’s eyes, looking back at itself and taking note of us as short-lived loves only briefly passing through.