The Long View
Rob and Harriet Fraser (Photographer and writer) are a partnership, both in the sense of being married and also an artistic partnership. I am interested in this as my wife (sculptor in rope and felt artist) are keen to work collaboratively when I have completed my degree. This comes from ourselves but has also been suggested by Linda Ingham director of Arts Meridian and curator who also collaborates with her partner David Powell.
A little over 7 years ago, early in 2010 and early in their life together, Rob and Harriet walked through snow to visit a single sycamore tree on Whitbarrow Scar (A wonderfully evocative karst landscape. My image below).
They discovered that they both knew the tree and had both climbed it. Here they felt was a tree that was remarkably ordinary, but, the more the became acquainted with it, the more extraordinary it became. They say that is what trees are like: "They are treasures hiding in plain sight." This encounter gave them the inspiration for their project, initially called seeing seven trees. They embarked on a search for seven trees within the Cumbrian fells. Seven is a special number and also linked to the seven chakras (energy points in the human body) and to the seven colours of the rainbow, light being an essential ingredient in photography). Once found they walked to them repeatedly, photographed each many times, wrote about them in verse and prose, slept by them and walked between them in seven days in both summer and winter carrying packs of 90lb. It took five years to refine their plans, to locate the trees, to gain funding and support, to put down firm roots and begin. The work has then taken two years to complete, but it is an ongoing project. A whole range of people have been involved in this work, including seven local primary schools, Arts Council England, The National Trust, The Woodland Trust, The Lake District National Park, Natural England and many others.
The exhibition was one of the most rewarding it has been my pleasure to visit, perhaps, I suppose, because they ticked so many boxes that matched with my philosophy and beliefs and also my Body of Work - we have both walked and worked with trees, but we have much, much more than that in common. The photographs are beautiful with several of each of the trees being included, one main, very large one, mounted on board as well as several smaller ones framed and in both colour and monochrome. Accompanying each were Harriet's evocative diary extracts and her moving poems. Some of my favourite images were ones of the trees taken at night using a head torch to floodlight the tree, in particular Langstrath Birch with The Milky Way arching over it. One aspect of the project was to walk between each tree and an altitude profile of this has been laser drawn onto a panel made of wood blocks from each of the tree species. How wonderful to touch and smell the wood. Like myself, Rob grows bonzai trees and part of the exhibition featured a bonzai of each of the seven trees up to ten years old, each displayed in a square section clear sided pot framed with wood. These were displayed on a superb display table made of an elm plank crafted by a local woodworker.
We had decided to visit the exhibition on this particular day as Rob and Harriet (and Guilly the dog) were giving an artists talk. Having first seen a mini version of this exhibition last September at Thorny How Youth Hostel in Grasmere as part of Cumbria's C-Art festival (Link to my blog entry here). It was fascinating to listen to their talk and audio visual presentation my main points of interest being noted below:-
- The project began with a lone sycamore on Whitbarrow Scar seven years ago
- The pair determined to embark on a joint project on seven trees
- Mind mapping was used to get them off the ground
- Walking was very important to them. Walking was used to locate the trees and to visit them and travel between them
- Talked to relevant bodies for advice, support and funding
- Meeting with seven remarkably ordinary trees
- All in The Lakes apart from The Little Asby Hawthorn which is on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is so isolated that it has its own symbol on the OS map
- Many of the trees are growing against the odds - crevices, sheep grazing etc
- Through the project Rob and Harriet gained a respect for the environment which survives despite all we throw at it
- The authorities are trying to keep sheep out of the Troutbeck Valley so it is becoming the most biodiverse valley they know. (ref. Georg Monbiot's Feral. Enerdale is going through a similar experimental rewilding.)
- The Langstrath Birch. Langstrath also has fencing to allow the regeneration of trees. (We have noticed the same in Longsledale and Mardale)
- The trees have been twinned with seven primary schools
- Rob and Harriet have worked and walked with a wide range of people and this is described in the exhibition book The Long View
- We can become emotionally connected to trees
- Walking to a tree through the landscape became very important to the pair
- The Light Walk. A 118 km summer walk, involving wild camping and 90lb packs (needed to carry camping and camera gear) and linking seven trees over seven days. Guilly carried his own food!
- It was not just the wider views but the micro world as well that fascinated them
- The Dark Walks. Made in December 2016. Seven Walks to the trees in seven days. Camped overnight but used the car to cover some of the distance as there was a lack of daylight hours.
- Rob and Harriet were heartened by the number of birds they encountered on the walks
- Light and colour were important.
- Each tree has been linked to the seven colours of the rainbow and the seven chakras (energy centres) in the body
- Pausing in the landscape is important. Pausing to spend time with each tree
- The latest part of the project is to add to the sculptures in Grizedal forest by using old walling stone to build a tree fold to encircle a newly planted tree. This is also going to be done in Wasdale, close to the Wasdale Oak using stone from a collapsed and abandoned sheep fold.
Of significance to the pair is a quote from David Attenborough:-
No-one will protect what they don't care about and no-one will care about anything they haven't experienced.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the artist talk and talking to both of them afterwards. We have many beliefs and interests in common. They were keen to hear about the OCA and my degree and what I was doing. They have provided my with their business card so that I can send a link to my blog and also send them a PDF of my BOW. The link to their website is here; it makes fascinating reading.
Fraser, H&R. (2017) The Long View, two years with seven remarkably ordinary trees Somewhere-Nowhere Press
Fraser, H&R. (2017) The Long View [online]. Somewhere-Nowhere. Available from: https://thelongview.today/ [accessed 27.07.2017]