on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Watchers of the Forest

A local photography project

Gary Dawes

Gary Dawes

Photographer Gary Dawes has a very extensive and diverse background in filmmaking he is well travelled and self-taught and is now dedicating his time to still photography shooting personal work which gives him the creative freedom to explore and carry out his own ideas.


We spoke to you last in 2018 about your Scotch Mist project can you give us an overview of what projects you have been working on and how your photography journey has continued since then?

Over the past few of years, I have been working on various photography projects. I have also been exploring other avenues and trying new things other than photography. I started Outsider an ongoing land art project. For me personally, I have always seen photography as more of a ride than a journey, without departures or destinations, I believe the meat is in the transitions in between the two.

During Scotch Mist, I was shooting "Body of light". It's a conceptual series made from old vintage postcards I had collected from bric a brac from market stalls. The light effect I shot in camera using a simple pinhole and direct sunlight. I used the series for my installation for the museum. "Station to Station" was a brief fascination I had for steam locomotives which I coupled together with railways at wartime, an event set in the 1940s. A trip back in time.

I shot "Mare Nostrum" at random from my phone as I strolled along the beach. I wanted to fracture the seascapes and shot that again in camera (so to speak), I'm not a lover of the photoshop. I visit the sea as often as I can it's not far from where I live, it has always held an attraction for me, the fish and chips there are really good too.

"Crows"; I prefer to photograph animals than portraits or people. Having someone stand there looking into the camera has never really done it for me, personally I find animals way more interesting and challenging. You just never know what's around the corner, I like the unpredictability of it all. Crows came about after spotting two crows way up high grappling and fighting with each other as they fell from the sky. For me it was a rare and powerful image, I had never seen anything like it before. There's conflict everywhere, it just opened things up to explore the birds further. I became interested in their ariel skills and the juxtapositions.

"Outsider" is an ongoing Land art project, as I mentioned above. I had the idea for quite some time, it started in the autumn of 2017 when I got a phone call from the local museum asking if I would be interested in putting on a photography exhibition in their art gallery. I declined that offer, but said what I would be interested in is showing some work in the grounds, so I made an installation with the "Body of light" series. I used the opportunity as an experiment really so I kept it pretty basic for future outdoor photography projects to see how the weatherised prints would stand up over the winter months.

Tell us about your current project ‘Looker watchers of the forest’ - How did the project start? What were your thoughts when you were first developing the idea?

It started for a number of reasons; I have always had an interest for the natural world and wildlife, it has always played a part in my work over many years in both as a filmmaker and photographer; secondly, over the past four to five years I had clocked up a lot of mileage on various projects and needed a change, and try something different. I set myself the challenge of hunting down a project locally in the nearby forests. I find them atmospheric; they have an air of mystery about them. Rendlesham forest comes to mind where the famous UFO incident took place in 1980, creatures, myths and legends etc, I have always thought they are a fantastic place, a sanctuary to spend time in and get away from it all. I also felt one shouldn't need to travel thousands of miles to find beauty either.

As the months passed, I must have looked at thousands of trees. In the endeavour to find the ones that gave me a tug. I remember one day getting a strange look from the odd dog walker when she saw me just stood there in the middle of the forest in pouring rain staring at the trees; I was watching the rain run down the trunks, I wanted to see if I could fuse the rain together with the eyes.

How did the project evolve? Did it change over time as you took the photographs?

I have a free-spirited approach to all the still photography work. I would say it's more intuitive, a gut feeling more than anything else, I will start with very loose ideas, I don’t lock anything down which enables me to explore alternative ways to approach things and experiment with ideas. But at the same time trying not to overdo it. I like to keep things authentic but interesting at the same time, without sucking the blood out of it. With Looker, I wanted to work with nature and use the different seasons to see what may or may not reveal itself. I shot over a period of 10 months and just took whatever it threw at me. The projects evolve by just getting into it and putting the graft in like anything else, accepting things, rejecting things. It all takes time and effort. As the months passed, I must have looked at thousands of trees. In the endeavour to find the ones that gave me a tug. I remember one day getting a strange look from the odd dog walker when she saw me just stood there in the middle of the forest in pouring rain staring at the trees; I was watching the rain run down the trunks, I wanted to see if I could fuse the rain together with the eyes. Alas, I wasn't really happy with the effect so I only used the one. You win some you lose some. I try as much as I can to push things, but also trying to avoid the crash and burn scenario. I've had my fair share of those as one does. I listen to a lot of music, mainly rock, that can sometimes help for a bit of inspiration or ideas, I find it’s the oil that gets things turning again when I hit the buffers.

Joe Cornish in his recent article talks about the Metaphoric Landscape “that landscape can be said to have characteristics that are similar to something completely different. In most cases that ‘completely different’ will be the human condition.” Was this something that you had in mind when you worked on this project?

I never set out with any preconceived ideas about the human condition or metaphor. But yeah, when I first came a cross the eyes, I was struck straight away by the resemblance; I thought how ironic the trees are mirroring the very cause of the destruction problem, Humans. There were times at the start of the project where I would just wander off into the heart of the forest like a lost dog trying to snatch some inspiration from somewhere or spark the imagination up, then one day it was one of those rare occasions I find with still photography where I felt I was just gifted the pictures, where the pictures are not taken. But given. I was off and running again more by luck than judgement.

It wasn't only the human connection that attracted me, there were eyes that took on the form of animals like the elephant and the whale.
It wasn't only the human connection that attracted me, there were eyes that took on the form of animals like the elephant and the whale. We are doing a good job on wiping those out too. I found the main driver was in the otherworldly ethereal feel they had, some had a melancholic and sad feel. They all had their own unique and individual characteristics.

You say you’ve walked the forests in Yorkshire for over 40 years - what changes have you seen in that time?

The main changes from where I stand is in the weather; as we all know over the years our summers have got hotter and winters milder, for instance, I was hoping for a bit of snow in the forest when shooting Looker, to give the images a bit of weight. In previous years I noticed how the wind would whip up the snow onto the tree trunks, there wasn't any snow again this year. The autumns are longer which you could say is a plus for the visual side of things, there is more flooding here now and it doesn't help when developers build houses on flood plains. Frackers came and went which could have been pretty devastating on so many levels. I think the native American Indians from the past had the right idea with their philosophies and cultures regarding the respect they had for nature and the planet. It’s a crazy world. I'm not sure where it's all going to end up. But there is lots of great work going on in nature reserves and wetlands here and many other parts of the UK and worldwide I should imagine where the land is being well managed and cared for so that nature can thrive. I believe it's all about balance. So maybe the replanting of millions of trees would be a step in the right direction.

What is next for you? Where do you see your photography going in terms of subject and style? Did the process of putting this project together give you any other ideas to go forward with?

Like I mentioned earlier with Outsider I'm getting involved in all sought of art, not just photography and film; I have a curious mind and want to keep moving on and try new things, I prefer living and working in the real world not a digital or virtual one. That’s the whole reason for Outsider. At the moment there are various projects some current and some for the next year. l am looking at putting on a show for the Looker series in a forest, I'm looking at Sherwood at the moment. I want to hang the prints in the trees, I made the frames out of foraged materials from the forest and converted large tinder fungus I found into downlighters so the images can be lit up at night. I have recently been given permission to use some land next to a local nature reserve to display some artwork in which will include some photography installations, so I look forward to that. At the moment I am currently experimenting with Cut ups, (photomontage). The idea came to me during a spot of research when I stumbled across a guy called Tristan Tzara, he was one of the founders of the anti-establishment Dada movement. What did it for me was, at a surrealist convention, Tzara proposed to create a poem by pulling out words from a hat, a riot ensued and the theatre got smashed up and he got kicked out of the movement! I have always been drawn to these kinds of crazy people. People that experiment and try different things in music art anything really, I find it all just keeps things interesting and alive. Ongoing forwards, I think it's all down to the inner zones and impulse that drives the need to create, and just the freedom to explore ideas. I set my own boundaries. No one else’s. It's a need, I'm not quite sure where that need is going to go if I'm honest.

On Landscape is part of Landscape Media Limited , a company registered in England and Wales . Registered Number: 07120795. Registered Office: 1, Clarke Hall Farm, Aberford Road, WF1 4AL. Midge Specs, midge net glasses from the Highlands.