This month I am happy and honored to host a very special author, a photographer who has created a brand recognizable all over the world of the woods and trees; I am therefore very happy to host Simon Baxter in my column. I met Baxter's works in 2016, after viewing his Youtube channel, a social network with which Simon was immediately able to propose very interesting photographic topics and behind the scenes of his wonderful images with which he managed to retain his audience.
Immediately observing his works and his videos I found a perfect harmony not only photographic, but also veneration (almost chemical) towards the woodland landscape and the trees, not just natural subjects, but elements of meditation as well as communication. Ps. obviously I'm a fan of Meg :)
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The rain was light and the sky thick with dark grey clouds while my friend and I zigzagged through the native trees which lined the river flowing with melt water into the expanse of Loch Maree. After a day of drama in the frozen foothills of Beinn Eighe, we were feeling a little fatigued and uninspired by the thin light. The warming fire in the nearby coffee shop beckoned - coffee and cake was sure to ignite some ideas.
The weather forecast was hinting at a small chance of snow being blown in from the east - perhaps the Beast From The East wasn’t done with us just yet! Eagerly studying the map, I pointed my finger very firmly at an area of woodland which appeared to gradually thin and fragment as it followed the line of a sheltered mountain burn. There’s nothing that excites me more than the sense of anticipation that comes from exploring the unknown and the feeling of child-like wonderment when you stumble upon somewhere special. It often starts with following your gut.
Following an old deer stalkers trail, we soon found ourselves surrounded by characterful scots pine trees, twisting their wet golden branches above the narrow rush of water which was fringed with ice. The rain turned to sleet and our pace quickened with widened eyes as the excitement intensified. Just a little more elevation and snowflakes began to streak diagonally across the sky, plastering one side of the tree trunks with their needles gathering more and more snow as their crowns gradually softened and receded to a white blur in the distance.
It’s very rare to find an area of wonderful trees and enjoy magical conditions on your very first visit. The situation can get a little frantic as you work quickly to make the moment creatively fruitful but while also reminding yourself to step back from the lens, enjoy the view and remember the experience. Ambitiously, I added another dimension by also trying to record a video for YouTube as it was a precious experience that I felt compelled to document. https://youtu.be/irSYV8dTz5A
With our heads down and woolly hats on, we trudged up a narrow path and became increasingly more exposed to the elements. Like a swimmer tilting their head for air, we frequently looked up to see what new surprises were before us. Like a painting in the landscape, I spotted one of the most wonderfully sculpted pine trees I’ve ever seen. Alone, proud, and with the freedom of space, its form was graceful and undisturbed. It’s wet cherry coloured bark merged into finer golden branches, tipped with green and finished with white. It was perfect.
As the snow gathered on Meg’s head (my pet Labradoodle) and the light began to fade, we conceded to the weather with numbed fingers which struggled to operate the tiny camera buttons. Tired and with a bag full of wet camera gear, we started our meandering wander back to the car with that soulful feeling of contentment and thankfulness for privileged moments in nature.
It’s now almost exactly 2 years later and I’m revisiting my favourite scots pine in the hope of similar conditions. The chance of snow is beginning to feel unlikely as we walk through the rain but yet again the timing is near perfect as the first signs of snow begin to flurry as a snowstorm appears from the mountains to the west. The wind is stronger, the temperature suddenly plummets and snowflakes whiz in all directions as they increase in size. A clap of thunder echoes through the mountains and I suddenly feel very exposed and alone. Not scared and alone but the sense of becoming a tiny piece of a wild landscape and truly connected to nature. Another memorable visit and time with my favourite scots pine.
My story of this image started in 2018, but it’s not really about the photograph. It’s about the magic of exploration, discovery, and forging a long-term relationship with nature, trees and places. As a photographer I want to make images which capture the expression of trees and the very best of nature’s creativity in the forms, colours and textures it fashions. And although the weather contributes to a memorable experience, I try to harness it in a way that helps to tell the story of the subject, offers a sense of place, and shares my own view of the world. It’s 40 months since I first found this majestic scots pine and I can’t wait for many future visits. Hopefully its story will continue well beyond my time.