British photographer Paul Hart has spent over a decade exploring human relationships with the land through photographs devoid of people. His series concentrate on specific geographical regions, where he photographs intensively over a number of years. The Photographers’ Gallery exhibits from May 17-20 at Photo London a series by British photographer Paul Hart entitled Truncated.
Centuries of clearing and cultivation by mankind have eroded our forests. Where the tree was once commonplace, there is little woodland left – just small, dissipated “islands” of trees, surrounded by a sea of used land. What does remain of this fragmented landscape is, however, largely unaffected by the modern world.
Although dormant through winter, the forest is nevertheless very much a living entity, and an incongruous one at that. When you enter, one’s concept of time appears to change. Inside, the wind is calmed and noise filtered, temperature altered, and light bounced and subdued.
It’s a spiritual place, at times charged with atmosphere. The interior is “cathedral-like”, where one’s feelings shift between the reassuringly safe and the disturbingly vulnerable. The essence of this spirit must have inspired the very first pagan and religious structures. With columns of trunks, and canopy blocking out the sky, the forest is far more than a refuge for the open landscape, it’s architectural.
There is no doubt that this ancient natural place is no longer part of the modern human psyche. But, when amongst the trees, it is still possible for one to sense a trace of the primeval. As you move deeper inside the woods, it can feel like you’re being pulled further in, almost magnetically. This sensation may derive from there always being something hidden from view, obscured by either darkness or the trees themselves. Furthermore, this apparent sanctuary of stillness can inexplicably transform. The feeling of shelter and protection that this environment inspires, can change to into one of hostility and entrapment. Trees stand like sentinels, there are stolid in ranks, like an army appearing out of the darkness.
Stepping into the forest can feel like a step into the unknown, the shadowy half-light deceiving the senses. This is why it’s so alluring – secretive, mysterious, and precious.
Paul Hart is a photographer based in London, UK. Hart’s new series Drained will be published October 2018 by Dewi Lewis with text by Francis Hodgson.