One of the things that I have struggled with living in Wiltshire until fairly recently is feeling disconnected from nature. I grew up in Porthleven, a fishing village in Cornwall, where the sound of the sea was my evening lullaby. Whilst living there I always kept my window open at night, so that I could listen to the percussion of the sea. The endlessly repeating motion of the tide was very comforting and reassuring to me.
In winter, the village’s inner harbour was closed off to the sea by massive wooden beams (known locally as the ‘bock’). At night, I remember hearing the sea smashing against the beams trying to dislodge them. On a few occasions the sea would achieve its aim. Once the storms were gone, boats would go out to recover the wooden beams from various parts of the sea.
In the last major storm a couple of years ago, the sea broke through the bock. There, my father watched his day sailing boat break free of its mooring and float out to sea, never to be seen again. There was nothing he could do to rescue it. It was named after my two daughters, and was a boat that I never got the chance to see as it was taken before I could do so.
Being in nature was something that I took for granted, as in Cornwall it’s almost impossible not to be aware of nature’s influence. Moving to Bristol in 2006, really highlighted a feeling of disconnection from nature for me. Seasons would pass, but I would almost not notice them – certainly not in the same way that I was used to. At the time, I put it down to the lack of presence of the wind, as in Cornwall the main times you notice the wind is when it is not there.
In the last few months I have been using the local woodlands as photographic subjects more, needing a break and a different challenge to the usual street photography.
Up until now, I have not really liked woodlands that much. I have tended to find them quite sterile. However, shooting my recent project Verdant in Grovely Woods was a good experience for me. Taking the time to just be in the woodland, to just be in nature, was at some points quite profound. The longstanding feeling of disconnection passed. In my mind, up until that point, I was of the belief that this unsettled emotion could only be counteracted by the rhythms of the sea. However, this proved not to be the case.
Returning to an enjoyment and respect for nature has been a searching experience for me, and one that brings me back somewhat to why I started photography in the first place – to capture the nature and landscapes that surround me.
Yesterday, I returned to the New Forest for the first time in a long time. I used to work in the New Forest a couple of years ago, and the daily 90 mile round trip to work put me off the place for quite a long time. We went to the Turf Hill area to walk the dog, his first walk in a week as he escaped from his lead in an attempt to chase down a rabbit and ended up shredding his feet on the rough ground. It seems that whilst Grey Hounds are fast, they are also quite poorly made and prone to breaking down. He didn’t get the rabbit, I am pleased to report.
I returned to the area in the evening (again with dog in tow), but this time I was armed with some camera equipment. My main focus was to just survey the area and search out potential compositions. It was also to think about how I want to approach shooting this area. At the moment, I am not entirely sure, but part of me would like to photograph it in poor weather. I am sure as I visit the area more, the project will take shape.
The main point for me is not the photography, but the act of being in nature. Years ago, I would often go out with cameras ready to get a sunset shot only to find that I would leave the cameras in the bag and just enjoy the experience of being there.
So, for me, returning to nature has been a sort of familiar homecoming, a kind of feeling of ‘rightness’. However, for my children, and the different world they are growing up in in comparison to the world I grew up in, things are very different. I hope that they can learn to appreciate, value and respect our natural environment as well. I hope that they realise it is much more than a resource for our pleasure, or a commodity to be used and exploited as we see fit. But actually realise that in and of itself it is of fundamental importance to our quality of life, let alone survival.
The world that our children are growing up in seems to me to be increasingly disconnected without awareness. Children (and adults) are disconnected from nature, and quite unaware of it in many circumstances. It’s something that happens ‘elsewhere’, not ‘here’. My children (and probably many others in the UK) are more influenced by media and social media, than nature. Their world on one level is much more connected than mine was as a child, but also much less connected in other ways.
I don’t think they will have this unsettled feeling of disconnection that I have, at least not in the same way, as the nature in this area does not seem to be so raw or pervasive as it is in Cornwall. However, I do hope that over time I can instil some sense of the importance of such things to them, but also keep that feeling of connection alive in myself.