Inside this issue
Tongue Wood Winter
Richard is a British landscape photographer living and working in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. With his wife, Polly, Richard owns and runs The Old School Muker Art Gallery & Craft Centre situated in the village of Muker, set within the stunning surroundings of Upper Swaledale. Richard is also Muker's foremost bongo player.
Locked in by government restrictions, snowed in by winter weather, on a recent walk we discovered something quite special just 30 minutes walk from our door.
Tongue Wood is a tiny patch of woodland that lies at the end of a remote dale, guarded by high fells. There’s no footpath to it, or through it, or past it. Dry stone walls and fences encircle it, so humans and sheep and cattle, seldom visit. The woodland is a mix of coniferous and deciduous.
Identifying quite what is limited both by a lack of botanical knowledge and the winter season, but Scots pine, birch and (I suspect) alder and a variety of non-native fir trees grow in the marshy ground. There’s been planting in the past, but in the main Tongue Wood is left to do what woodlands do: seed, grow, fruit, die, fall, rot; a natural cycle enabled by government grants that value its survival above the production of food.
For someone who adores the woods discovering one so close is a real joy and my immediate, instinctive reaction is to reach for my camera and attempt to capture its intrinsic beauty, but - and this is the crux - I find it so frustratingly difficult to photograph woodland that, despite my love, whenever I try I’m left in a state of doubt and despair about my aptitude as a photographer. I’m not alone in this struggle. In his book Landscape Within, UK photographer David Ward wrote that there were three main difficulties with woodland; contrast, chaos and complexity, but searching for uniformity, order and simplicity in a wood is, as Winston Churchill might have countered, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
Woodland photography therefore becomes a problem to be solved and not an easy one! Luckily there is hope and strategies and situations that might come to our aid, which brings me back to the present.
Snow! In this context snow is magical, transformational stuff. Much of the chaos and complexity simply disappears under a white blanket; the contrast between woodland floor and canopy suddenly becomes manageable; the structure of the wood becomes emphasised. It might not fully crack the riddle, but it’s a way in! In the end though, and this is immensely difficult for someone who favours a graphical style of photography to accept, if you’re not to be driven mad, or spend hours in Photoshop, or be defeated altogether, the key, for me at least, is to acknowledge that nature doesn’t fit neatly into the viewfinder of a camera and that shooting woodland isn’t a perfect cut and paste exercise of isolation and extraction. That’s not to say you should give up on composition, you have to work doubly hard, but that you may well have to learn to live with, even embrace, nature’s chaos and the twigs, branches and sliced in half trees, that inevitably stray into the frame.