Inside this issue
Flux: Celebrating the Complexities of Yorkshire Woodland
Exhibition at St James's University Hospital
I was given my first camera by my parents, a Nettar Ikon, way back in the late 1960s. My father was a very keen photographer. Unfortunately, being a typical kid, I had other things to do rather than grasp the opportunity to learn from him. Although I have had various cameras during the years, I never took more than poorly exposed record shots, though many were of the mountains of Wales and Scotland that my parents took us to. Then in 2014, after yet another rock climbing injury, I started to make photographs more seriously. I seek, through my photographs, to both connect with and present my interpretation of what I notice in the natural environment. Over the last few years, much of my enjoyment from photography has come from experiencing the woodlands local to me and seeking to portray their complexity and change.
‘Flux’ is the first exhibition by Geraint Evans. It aims to raise funds for the Leeds Hospital Charity, the fundraising arm of the Leeds Cancer Centre. 35% of any sales will go to this very worthy cause, providing specialist medical equipment, research and development and patient ‘home comforts’ to patients in Bexley Wing, St James’s University Hospital.
November 2023 – January 2024
St James's University Hospital, Beckett Street, Leeds, LS9 7TF
Well, firstly, this is a collection of images from the woodlands of West and North Yorkshire.
West and North Yorkshire are not well endowed with woodland. The region is best known for its moors, such as Ilkley, gritstone landscapes as at Brimham, and rivers: the Wharfe, Aire and Nidd. However, nestled in the steep-sided valleys created by those rivers that begin life in the limestone Yorkshire Dales to the west and which then cut through the overlying gritstone, are hidden wooded areas.
These are not the easiest woods to access. They occupy steeply sloping valley sides with few paths, and they are certainly chaotic. They have none of the order we often see in woodland photographs. Although humans have, of course, exploited these woods over centuries, their use has been largely confined to quarrying the grit that lies beneath rather than felling the trees, so these locations are home to many old specimens: oak, beech, the blighted ash and of course the ubiquitous birch, interspersed with hawthorn and many gorgeous examples of rowan.
I’m sure we have all read about and watched many vlogs telling us how to simplify woodland images, telling us you can only take woodland photographs in the mist - but for me, while a bit of mist is lovely, it is composing the relationships of elements in a woodland scene that is so rewarding. While I like a lone tree or a winding path as much as the next person, that’s a very rare sight in the woods of Yorkshire. Therefore, what I have always sought to do is make images that express the complex and changing forms, patterns, textures and colours of these wooded areas. What inspires and engages me is the interrelationship between these elements.
All the photographs in the exhibition are taken in these woods. All are within 30 minutes’ drive of my home on the edge of Leeds.
I seriously began attempting to photograph these woods on my walks with my first digital camera in 2014. But it was only when I acquired a Hasselblad 501c with its 6x6 format and discovered the colours I was getting from using Kodax Porta and Fujifilm Provia film that I found what I had been looking for. I have a digital camera and love using it, but there was something about the images I was getting back, once developed, and then digitally worked on in Lightroom, that I loved, and for me, evoked what I had seen, experienced and felt in the woods.
The images themselves were the result of spending hours in a few woodland settings. Both as a child and then an adult, I have always spent time in the woods. It was this love of woods, the change to my photography that I found with the Hasselblad and the slow realisation that I had a body of work that led me to think that I could perhaps go forward and submit for a Royal Photographic Society Associate Fellowship. This I successfully did in May 2021, the panel being chaired by none other than a certain Mr Joe Cornish.
Cancer, and comfort
So why an exhibition in a Leeds hospital for the Leeds Hospital Charity? Well, not long after that RPS submission, at the end of May 2021, I developed a sore throat - but as you do, and as COVID was all around, I did nothing for a for a few days. Then, on closer examination with a head torch, I discovered not a sore throat but a very large and angry red lump where my left tonsil should have been. All those adverts and advice are right - check yourself!
There followed an amazing and bewilderingly rapid series of biopsies, scans and meetings, the upshot of which was a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer in my tonsil, neck and, unfortunately, a further spread to an area in my hip bone. Shockingly, the prognosis was not good. At one point, my partner and were informed that palliative treatment was the only option, without which I would probably have about a year. I’ll not bore you with the ins and outs of what happened next and of the treatment, suffice to say that after a course of chemotherapy followed by courses of radiotherapy to throat, neck and hip, I had this June 2023, my one year all clear scan, much to the surprise of all.
The NHS care, support, treatment and ongoing aftercare have been overwhelming. Across every department and every level, from GPs, community nurses, support teams, aftercare teams, dental, chemo and radiotherapy staff to the Oncology consultants, the level of professionalism and patient care blew me and my partner away.
Throughout treatment, at least when I wasn’t laid out with a dose of chemo or during the hardest radiotherapy treatment time, supported by my wonderful partner, I was out in those same woods. I recall, in particular, a day in November near the end of my chemo, just standing in the woods, completely soaked, yet feeling that there was nowhere else I’d rather be. The colours were hanging on in the last of the leaves, and the rain was that sort, so fine it formed almost a mist. Being immersed in the outdoors in the landscape gave me a sense of calm, a pool of calm in a sea of anxiety. A moment, glade-like, of happiness, surrounded by complex dark undergrowth. What I hope my images speak of is that calm, that glade. The connection with the landscape that I felt then in a fog of chemo, in a mist of rain.
The photographs also speak, I hope, of other things I felt during that time. For me, at least, the images portray the way in which woods change, they flux over the seasons and their complexity, their interwovenness in a way that made me think about myself. The changes I was going through, which so many of us will experience, and the complex nature of our bodies.
Every visit to the Bexley Wing of St James Hospital (and there were many, including 35 days straight with Christmas off for just the throat and neck radiotherapy) also meant one bright, uplifting experience each time, which was to walk through the foyer of the wing, the exhibition space. The foyer space is very large and white and very bright. Each visit meant passing the uplifting works of art that are hung there, pausing to look, see and soak up some of the light. What gave me the push to think an exhibition might be possible was seeing the abstract paintings of someone I knew, someone I had not seen for years but who, in a former life I’d stood on street corners with, flogging a certain left wing paper every Saturday, and who had also gone through a very similar experience to me.
Seeing Paul’s work, experiencing the joy of walking through the foyer, along with having a body of work that had continued to sustain me during a tough time led me to take the plunge and speak to St James about a possible exhibition, with the aim of hopefully giving something back for all the care, support, treatment - and above all, my life - by supporting the Leeds Hospital Charity.
Selecting images, having the right level of scan and size, and choosing paper and frames have all been a lot to learn, but if some images were to sell, then it would be for a very worthy cause.
Venue and directions
Bexley Wing, St James's University Hospital, Beckett Street, Leeds, LS9 7TF