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  • Writer's pictureRitchard Allaway

31/12/21 - Guisborough Forest

Reflecting on Wilderness

Location: Guisborough Forest – North Yorkshire Moors

Collecting visuals and sounds

A somewhat sombre morning on the eve of 2022, I headed out to another area on the outskirts of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, Guisborough Forest and Walkway. I can never remember ever visiting Guisborough Forest before, so this was a new journey for me and one with no expectation, except that it was rather close to the vicinity of human activity. I also suppose the forests title of ‘walkway’ really does confirm man has been and man has made this accessible for man. As with every journey, I try to keep a non-cynical frame of mind and allow for the (what is now common practice throughout my work) feeling through ‘the work’ to occur.

I took a selection of equipment with me this time again, but some new tools made it into the cut. The first being a Canon MKII M50 mirrorless camera, which I wanted to explore via recording moving image as from overhearing my colleagues’ positive reviews for doing such a task. The Tascam, Sennheiser headphones and tripod all made the cut as well as a medium format Mamiya 645 camera. I have never used a medium format camera before, but I know it to be a great piece of equipment for capturing landscape imagery due to its wider frame rate and reduced grain outcome. I will be quite honest here, I did just point and shoot, so there is a very good chance the images may have under/over exposed, but time will tell when I get around to developing.

I parked up and the day saw a low sun due to the winter months, with some intermittent wind playing around the area. I decided that my best chance to make this trip as isolated as possible was to take the more challenging walkways (with the idea being that it is New Year’s Eve and people probably want a leisurely stroll not a hike). This worked in my favour as I only came across five people, one on a mountain bike, one who did not see me see him kissing a tree (yes, he kissed the tree) and a dog. I hiked up a rather muddy route and due to heavy rainfall, the night before it became very slippy and even more so when struggling to balance oneself when carrying equipment. I placed myself at the ‘top’ of the hill, within a dense, leaf covered forest. I took myself off the path and set up the Tascam behind a fallen tree, hidden away and about 30ft from the muddy path. My intention was to leave the Tascam safely hidden within the forest on record whilst I walk away and continue with my journey, only to return sometime later. The idea to leave and return to the sound recorder was so that when I listen to the recording, I will be hearing sounds for the first time. Even though I would be present within the forest, the Tascam is the one experiencing and capturing live audio undeterred from any human inference. When listening to the captured sound, it would play as new unexperienced audio for me, it is uncontrolled (if I do not count placing the Tascam) and raw and not known. To play to an audience they would use whatever cognitive recognition functions they possess to decipher and translate the audio, whereas for myself, although I was not there as such, I still experienced the forest landscape and can use visual experience to compose the audio landscape within my mind.

During the recording time, I set about exploring the forest and the use of the medium format camera. My aim for using this camera was to gain a new quality of image that when developed can be seen as its original outcome but to also open further options for chemical manipulation when redeveloping. This in turn could extend earlier film processes I have been exploring.

One thing that I did notice was even though the path was a man-made path, nature was of course working its way back over it, to reclaim ‘their’ land, but with the mud, human footprints were always visible. It is even when I think I am isolated I am still present with ghosts of humanity embedded in mud and water. These elements of humanity were also echoed by small intermittent walkway signposts, that directed you around the landscape, followed by the odd architectural structure that ‘needed’ to be there. One of these was a small stream, waterfall structure. I did somewhat enjoy this, as the water gently flowed across the rocky surface and down into a small ravine. I captured sounds of the peaceful stream as it had a quality that emphasised my previous posts on moments which give you a second of nothingness. I came across a quote some time back and unfortunately, I have forgotten who said it, I want to say Kant, but I am probably way off. The text discussed how we see the romantic sublime as this grand, terrifying, awe inspiring picture of land and power and ‘the dwelling place of God’ (Donald 2013) but why can’t the sublime be the small elements hidden within the landscape? Take for example (and in this case), a small stream. The stream is the beginning to the ocean, the ocean being one of the most sublime ‘object’s out there, but the stream has a peaceful intensity to it. It has an ability to calm oneself but to also make one consider this natural beauty. Does this beauty, yet so small, contain and/or obtain a moment of consideration that is somewhat overwhelming? Does the stream produce beauty that is terrifying? Does the stream just be a stream and we derive to some mad philosophical hyped-up opinion? Let’s now leave the stream…

Continuing with my journey I moved around as much as I could without getting distracted by every ounce of nature. I tried to just flow through the forest without having to feel like I needed to document everything I came across of interest or thought included interest. This saying that this journey is an investigation after all but one that needs to be not forced and rather a natural occurrence. The ever-present human touch was always somewhere within my walk, even when I thought I escaped. That is the interesting part I am coming to realise, no matter how far away you think you are from humanity, you never can fully escape it. Maybe I do need to take a trip to the Arctic very soon or perhaps the Sahara Desert, surely there is somewhere which can lead to pure escapism?

I was noticing a series of roots pushing through the ground. They reminded me of my isolated aerial landscape images (see blog post 25/7 Aerial Landscapes), the ones in which my own homely wilderness was formed via bedsheets and edited imagery. The movement and water type flow of each root, interconnecting or avoiding, seeking its own path up, down and through and out of the land is truly nice to see. I came across so many and documented those for later alteration, maybe I could create some sort of connection and review between both the bedsheet flows and the root flows.

Further along when stood admiring the root flows below, I then perceived the opposite and looked up. I had this weird moment of thinking that I was in M Night Shyamalan’s The Happening as the treetops moved within the wind/or the wind moved them. There was again this moment of just looking and watching as trees moved through and between the element of wind producing sounds of leaf rustles and branch cracks. One’s own perception is altered interestingly when looking up, an off balance occurs as you try to steer yourself to observe but you cannot help but move with nature and throw yourself with each swing of the tree. These signs or let me actually say ‘happenings’, do give rise to that ability to allow nature to encapsulate and almost imprison us into the notion of stopping and being present with land. I took this moment to film for around five or six minutes these treetop movements to document and possible alter/edit with sound or just show it as it is.

I had spent around nearly two hours trying to escape humanity and experience a new landscape. I decided to carry on walking and this time just focus on the walk rather than stopping and documenting every interesting sight and sound. I had captured a good amount of documentation for further exploration and reflection, although at some points I took a few snaps just to finish off the route with some real-life paintings.

Diana Donald, ‘The Arctic Fantasies of Edwin Landseer and Briton Riviere: Polar Bears, Wilderness and Notions of the Sublime’, in Nigel Llewellyn and Christine Riding (eds.), The Art of the Sublime, Tate Research Publication, January 2013,, accessed 02 January 2022.

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