Smoke and Mirrors Heathland

Smoke and Mirrors Heathland by Ellie Davies: This work explores the complex interrelationship between landscape and beauty, and the notion that our understanding of landscape is constructed. In doing so it subverts the notion of beauty as truth, and references wider issues of authenticity within photography.

The intention is to request a more personal response to the landscape, an experience embedded in memory, history, storytelling, folk law and magic, to engage the viewer in a dialogue with the image and in a sense of the familiar, drawing on an awareness of how our perceptions of the natural world are shaped. Ongoing debates surrounding landscape examine the consequences of conceiving of landscape as beautiful. These constructions obscure the reality of the land, veiling it, transforming the natural world into an idealization. The trees in the Smoke and Mirrors Heathland series allude to this construction, whilst also evoking a sense of the fairytale. These fantasy trees reference these fictions which persist in spite of any conscious knowledge about the material, social or political status of landscapes, to create ‘rural myth’ and romanticism, obscuring an understanding of the land as threatened and exploited, dangerous and unknown.

© All images by Ellie Davies (2013)

Ellie Davies (Born 1976) lives in Dorset and works in the woods and forests of Southern England.  She gained her MA in Photography from London College of Communication in 2008.

Davies is represented by Crane Kalman Brighton Gallery in the UK, Patricia Armocida Gallery in Milan, Susan Spiritus Gallery in California, A.Galerie in Paris and Brussels and Brucie Collections in Kiev.

Davies recently launched her newest series ‘Fires, 2018’.  Fires 2 has been selected Winner of the Urbanautica Institute Awards 2018: Nature, Environment and Perspectives. The Fires series was also voted Winner of the 12th Julia Margaret Cameron Award: Professional Landscapes and Seascapes category and the 12th Pollux Awards: Professional Fine Art Series Winner.   There will be an Award Winner’s Exhibition for both competitions at Galerie Valid Foto in Barclona in early May 2019.The Fires series is featured in Dodho Magazine Issue 7 and Rakes Progress, Issue 10 (forthcoming).

I have been working in UK forests for the past nine years, making work which explores the complex interrelationship between the landscape and the individual. Our understanding of landscape can be seen as a construction in which layers of meaning that reflect our own cultural preoccupations and anxieties obscure the reality of the land, veiling it, and transforming the natural world into an idealisation.

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. As such, the forest represents the confluence of nature, culture, and human activity. Forests are potent symbols in folklore, fairy tale and myth, places of enchantment and magic as well as of danger and mystery. In more recent history they have come to be associated with psychological states relating to the unconscious.

Against this backdrop my work explores the ways in which identity is formed by the landscapes we live and grow up in. Making a variety of temporary and non-invasive interventions in the forest, my work places the viewer in the gap between reality and fantasy, creating spaces which encourage the viewer to re-evaluate the way in which their own relationship with the landscape is formed, the extent to which it is a product of cultural heritage or personal experience, and how this has been instrumental in their own identity.

Throughout my practice small acts of engagement respond to the landscape using a variety of strategies, such as making and building, creating pools of light, suspending smoke within the space, or using craft materials such as paint and pigment. The final images are the culmination of these interventions. The forest becomes a studio, forming a backdrop to contextualize the work, so that each piece draws on its location, a golden tree introduced into a thicket shimmers in the darkness, painted paths snake through the undergrowth, and strands of wool are woven between trees mirroring colours and formal elements within the space.

These altered landscapes operate on a number of levels. They are a reflection of my personal relationship with the forest, a meditation on universal themes relating to the psyche and call into question the concept of landscape as a social and cultural construct. Most importantly they draw the viewer into the forest space, asking the them to consider how their own identity is shaped by the landscapes they live in.