Are The Places Of Our Past As Magical As We Remember?

London born and bred, photographer Ellie Davies, has a close connection with nature: she works in the forests of Southern England and spent her childhood playing in them with her twin sister. Her latest photography series, Half Light, explores her very personal relationship with the woodlands and whether childhood innocence and joy can be recaptured.

Half Light 2, 2016
Half Light 3, 2016
Half Light 1, 2016

Most of us feel bouts of nostalgia for our childhood: fond memories of a place or a person, a time in our lives where we explored the world with naïve fascination when the damning voices of our conscious had yet to kick in. In this sense, Half Light, and Ellie’s journey into her past reflects a worldwide thought-process: are the places of our childhood as magical as we remember or were they simply a figment of our youthful imagination.

Ellie’s work is dreamlike and colourful – it embodies that lethargic feeling that would come after a day of dancing in the fields: laying on our backs, blowing the petals from flowers we had picked, watching the clouds roll past. We are transported to a place where time does not exist, emails seize to ping and responsibility is as far away from us as the sky.

Half Light 4, 2016

No place exists independently of our own reality and with these series Ellie explores this idea through the symbolism and meaning in landscape. We bring our personal experiences with us everywhere, we taint our world with them but, is this necessarily a bad thing?

The Plus: What inspired this series?
Ellie Davies:
Growing up in the New Forest in the south of England, I spent my childhood exploring and playing in the woods with my twin sister. In Half Light, I consider my relationship with these places, my ongoing attempt to reconnect with the wilder landscapes of my youth and to discover if those remembered and imagined places can be found and captured again, or if, like my childhood they too are out of reach.

Half Light 5, 2016

TP: You say that this series works with the symbolism and layers of meaning in landscape – what does landscape symbolise for you?
To me landscape is a cultural construct which represents an idealisation of the natural world. In the small, over-populated and over-farmed United Kingdom ‘wilderness’ no longer exists but we still desire to find a meaningful relationship with the natural world around us. UK forests have been shaped by human processes over thousands of years and include ancient woodlands, timber forestry, wildlife reserves and protected Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. As such, the forest represents the confluence of nature, culture, and human activity. Our understanding of landscape can be seen as a construction which reflects our own cultural preoccupations and anxieties but it also obscures the reality of the land, veiling it, and transforming the natural world into an idealization.

Half Light 6, 2016

TP: How long did the series take to shoot and what equipment did you use?
I began the series in September 2016 and made twelve images over the winter. The series is ongoing and will continue in the autumn when the wet weather returns.

I use a Pentax 645Z with a range of lens, a cable release, and my Manfrotto tripod and head. I use a fairly lightweight kit because I need to be able to walk fairly long distances carrying everything on my back.

TP: It seems you like to go into the woods, why?
The woods is a place of continuous inspiration and discover, every time I go to a new place I find new ideas for images I would like to make. I hope to continue working in the woods as long as the ideas come.

Half Light 7, 2016

TP: What did you discover, or rediscover, about yourself and your youth while shooting this series?
Playing in the woods as a child involves learning about your environment, the beginnings of independence, decision making, discovering and learning about new materials, building, exploring and conquering your fears of the forest.
I have found that working in the woods as an adult holds elements of all these things too. It allows me to reconnect with the woodlands I played in as a child and for a short time to rediscover them, to experience some of those childhood fears and imaginings. Building and making new work in the forests always hold this appeal; a combination between the pleasure of being in the woodland spaces and a certain heightened awareness and sometimes fear that comes with being in the woods alone. I prefer to work alone because it focuses my concentration on the place, and helps me to bring this atmosphere and tension into my work for the viewer to experience also.

Half Light 8, 2016

TP: Both this series and your previous featured series, Stars, have a focus on landscape. How did you approach this topic differently in the new series?
In each series I use some formal element or intervention to alter the way the viewer interacts with the forest space. In my newest series Half Light I utilized the rivers and waterways of the New Forest. I made this series wading into the rivers and shooting back towards the riverbanks and the depths of the forests behind. These existing horizons create a visual separation between the viewer and the landscape beyond.

TP: What next?
Later in 2016 my work will be included in The Singapore International Photography Festival 2016, and Landscapes at The Centre for Fine Art Photography (Fort Collins, Colorado, USA) from 6 May – 10 June 2016.

Half Light 9, 2016
Half Light 10, 2016
Half Light 11, 2016
Half Light 12, 2016

You can catch Ellie’s work for yourself at her solo exhibition, taking place at the Crane Kalman Gallery in London from 21st July – 20th August 2016.