These trees are the only ones left today at Backåkra beach on the south coast of Sweden. A few years ago, the forestry machines rolled in and started clearing a large piece of the forest. I was there for a walk with the dogs when the machines rolled in and started to knock down the trees. I got bald chills; it was just like in the seventies when I was a child and the machines rolled into the forest where I grew up. In one week, the machines could destroy a square mile of our playground, all the trees were thrown down like matches. The forest was to become pulpwood.
In Backåkra they had other plans. The forest is part of the Hagestad nature reserve and it turned out that the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency wants to recreate the sand steppe environment that existed there before pine was planted in the 18th century to prevent sand escape. The sand steppe, which is already found in some other coastal areas in Skåne, has a large biological diversity. Some trees have been saved, most of them half-dead or dead, to give home to various animals. Nowadays, when I walk in the woods, I raise my eyes as I get down into the devastated part and keep it attached to the trees that are left, to avoid seeing the run-up, sore ground. During the past two years, these trees have become more and more human. One tree is dry and ravaged but is a survivor; two branches are still alive. One of the dead pines has apparently competed in growing with another tree and only managed three meters up, then it has stopped. Then it has grown around in a circle under the larger tree, before it dies. These last trees in the area stand unnaturally alone now, but they have also become more interesting because they have been exposed. Now their shapes are more clearly visible and how they lived life in interaction with other trees.
I never thought I would do an exhibition of trees. The trees and the forest are something to enjoy in the place, where I feel contact with something big and timeless. Pictures I have taken over the years in the forest, have never lived up to the experience there. In fact, I have never seen a photograph of trees and forests that gave that feeling. I have seen video that has succeeded, but there is both movement and sound that adds to the picture. This time I just could not stop taking pictures. I became stubborn with each failed attempt; I wanted to present this in photography. Backåkraskogen was mine, and when the trees in the devastation were left alone, they became even more mine. The first half year I photographed digitally but it did not work. Then I started shooting analog with the medium format camera. There was still so much missing in the picture; the wind, the smell, the humidity, the cold. Despite the shapes of the trees, despite the haze and fog that surrounds them, clouds with shapes that meet the shapes of the trees; despite all the beauty, the photography was not half as strong as the experience it was to be there. But then I started experimenting in the darkroom with liquid photographic emulsion, and then something started to happen. The material itself got a life of its own that had nothing to do with my negative. The liquid emulsion gave something organic to the image, the surface became less flat and the emulsion created movement. Different depending on whether I spread it out on paper or wooden boards. I could with my fingertips spread the emulsion so that it formed fog banks or clouds that were not in the negative. If the emulsion ran a little downwards, it became more humid in the air. Something new happened. The image became something in its own right, not just a representation of reality.
All images and text © Lisa Strömbeck
By Lisa Strömbeck
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