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Woodlanders is a collection of 60 photographic portraits. The photographs were taken over a period of eight years on a sinuous journey that took me through woodlands large and small, ancient and managed, that lead inevitably to the doors of those who dwell and work amidst the trees.

 

'Approaching the entrance to the coppice from the busy public road, the woodland seemed quiet and deserted – a feeling soon dispelled by an enticing hint of woodsmoke hovering in the air as I opened the door of the pick-up to unlock the gate. Following the twists and turns of a rutted track running through a mixture of standing chestnut, younger coppice and mature oak, and the occasional quagmire, we reached a clearing in the trees. A series of bashas roped to chestnut poles served as a temporary shelter from a threatening sky; a blackened iron kettle steamed over a fire as cutters and paling makers felled, split and stacked. What began as a pictorial record of working practices and processes soon developed into a collection of portraits. That small industrious community of exuberant apprentices and their dedicated instructors, their warm welcome and their anecdotes, formed the inspiration for this photographic project.

 

I joined in with the monthly meetings of the local coppice cooperative and was soon mixing with woodreeves, coppice workers and woodland owners. Some families go back several generations, with tales of great-grandfathers felling with axes and two-person saws. In chestnut woods in Kent, ancient coppice stools several metres in diameter are a testament to the long life of the trees, extended as they have been by human intervention and the obvious ecological benefits that provides.

 

The personalities, stories, knowledge, skill, graft, sense of pride and unquestionable care for the woodlands in which they work and – in some cases – live became both infectious and irresistible. Like the spreading fungal tendrils of mycelia, the more woodlanders I met, the more I was told of other woodlanders that ‘deserved’ the focus of my lens: charcoal makers, coppice cutters, post and paling makers, horse loggers, wood carvers, cabin builders, flood management engineers, basket makers, tree planters, seed collectors and ecologists.'

 

Keith Lovegrove

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