As many of you know, photographic books are perhaps some of the most treasured objects I own. I really love them for many reasons, and I've always wondered why not all lovers of photography own them. They not only give us a better experience of someones work compared to viewing it on a website, but also, they allow for a more intimate setting where we can lose ourselves for half an hour or more as the photographer takes us on a journey through their own world.
One such book that I've had the delight of getting to know for this very reason, is Dav Thomas' 'With Trees'.
I've just spent the past few days returning again and again to this book, because it has a wonderful way of letting my mind reconnect with what it's like to be outside, roaming through woods and remote landscapes. It is a beautiful journey where I seem to lose myself each time I pick it up and roam through its pages.
Thomas celebrates the nature of trees as they are. He does not seek to simplify or create an illusion of what is there, but instead works very much with what the trees themselves have to offer. And what they offer is a recognition that even in the middle of one of the smallest and most densely populated countries in Europe, there is always a forest not too far away, where one can gain some space and remove themselves from the existence of every day life.
Thomas mainly focusses on the forests of the Peak and Lake district, but there are occasional entries to places such as Elgin in northern Scotland. What is interesting for me to note however, is that there is a sense of uniformity to the landscapes he has photographed. He reminds me that one doesn't have to go far to find their muse, and I suspect that these locations have not been picked purely because they are within reach of where Thomas lives, but because he has had a life long relationship with the environment he has chosen to photograph.
His book is not simply a celebration of trees, but an empathetic understanding of the undergrowth, grasses and mosses that in his own words are a 'supporting cast for the trees they surround'. I loved this sentiment particularly, because in it, Thomas is telling me he understands that each element in a scene has a relationship to one another not just photographically, but also in nature.
Although the book is a monograph, it is interspersed with Thomas' observations of how trees exist and relate to their surrounding environment. I loved the text, because for me, it echoed pretty much what I saw and felt in his work: a deep fascination for the relationship between tree, undergrowth and moss. Thomas seemed to me very much like someone who has spent time around his subjects getting to know them in all their seasons and different atmospheric environments.
In one such observation by Thomas, he notes that Oak and Limestone are often hard to separate, because they blend in a way where mosses covering the limestone take on an extended quality to the surrounding trees, and he uses this well in his compositions. He is comfortable to show you that both these compositional elements are intertwined, and can be interpreted as one, rather than discreet elements which have to stand apart. That I feel, is a difficult thing to execute well, because forests are difficult subjects at best to produce strong photographs from. And Thomas seems extremely comfortable with this task.
On a more personal note, at times I felt that I was enjoying images that would compliment the work of naturalist Eliot Porter. Whereas some photographers seek drama and mood in their work, others are more content to convey nature the way it is, and celebrate it's beauty for 'just being'. This is what I see in this book, and I think that's why I feel it should proudly sit next to my collection of Eliot Porter books: a high commendation indeed.
On the subject of the quality of the printing and presentation, the book is a beautiful hardbound A3 sized monograph, with a lovely introduction by David Ward. I had the great delight in noticing that even the cardboard box it comes in, is beautifully presented with the same themes as contained on the front cover of the book. It is one piece of cardboard I will not be throwing out, because for me - it is part of the book where packing and content are one concept. I'm a big believer in the collectibility of books, so if you do decide to buy this book, then hold onto the carton as well.
Thomas I feel, is just at the start of a great future. I think he has vision, not only in his photographic work, but also in his message. He knows his motivations well. This is a hard act to pull off for many and I feel that Thomas understands his own sense of aesthetics and along with it, his own vision and style. He has found his own path, and is on a journey, which I feel I understand well, because photography has been a journey for me also.
I hope this is the first of many books by Thomas. It was been executed well, which considering this is his first book, illustrates that Thomas knows his message and has a strong sense of how to convey it.
For me, It will sit proudly alongside my Eliot Porter collection. As I said earlier; a high commendation indeed.
'With Trees' is available from Beyond Words books @ £40.
And also available directly from the Triplekite publishing in different limited editions.