Marion Sidebottom

Nature-Based Photographer & Artist, MA, ARPS, RHS Silver Gilt

Epping Forest Artist Residency

You Can't See the Trees for the Woods!

I am an artist and photographer based in Essex and was the Artist-in-Residence at the City of London’s Corporation's Epping Forest from April 2017 to March 2018. The project was kindly funded by Arts Council England through Grants for the Arts. My project was called “You Can’t See the Trees for the Woods!”. A key aim of the project was to explore how visual images can engage people’s interest in ancient trees and the forest by showing them from many different viewpoints. I hope that my work encourages people to view important trees within the forest not only as valuable assets to the environment but also for their cultural value to people on a personal level. I documented my journey on my Wordpress Blog, Twitter and Facebook. 

Short Film from BBC London News

Part 1 - Ancient Tree Portraits of Epping Forest

For the first part of the project, I worked with Dr Jeremy Dagley, the Head of Conservation, to identify and take photographic portraits of the keystone trees around Epping Forest at a point in time before they undergo environmental change. Keystone trees were originally chosen by staff at Epping Forest due to criteria such as their ancient age and ecological importance.

These portraits were created as two collections and were exhibited at the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge in Epping Forest in July 2017. The exhibition coincided with the Ancient Tree Forum summer conference which was hosted at Epping Forest and the signing of a Concordat with the City Corporation which aims to protect ancient trees. Beech Trees in Spring is a collection of colourful ancient Beech tree landscapes within the forest. They aim to show how vibrant and colourful the forest landscape can be, but with the emphasis on the quirky nature of some of the trees. The second collection is Ancient Tree Portraits which are toned in sepia to represent the Victorian influence on the protection of Epping Forest. They are reminiscent of Victorian postcards and have a faded background to draw you into the central tree image to emphasise their unusual shapes and forms. Each tree has its own unique character and I have fondly refer to them as my tree 'mugshots'.

The exhibition was dedicated to the memory of my late Uncle John who passed away a few weeks before at the age of 63. He inspired me to consider my impact on the environment and to respect and care for nature from a very young age and I thank him for this.



Part 2 - Ancient Trees & People of Epping Forest

The second part of the project, ‘Ancient Trees & the People of Epping Forest’, tells the story of some of the people who live, work, study and visit the forest that I encountered. I interviewed and recorded people, photographed their work and took part in activities in the forest. This included going up 100 feet in the forest canopy with the Conservation Arborists, studying woodland ecology with the Field Studies Council, tagging along with walking groups, conservation volunteers and spending time with a mycologist and a naturalist. The exhibition included photographic prints, an image slideshow with sound bites, and photomontage artworks of the tree stories. In the artworks, things are not what they seem, perspective and scale are altered, and objects appear in unusual places. Each is multi-layered both visually and in meaning and represent different things to people according to their knowledge of the forest and environmental issues or they can be viewed purely from an artistic perspective.

I am grateful to Arts Council England for their financial support and to the staff of Epping Forest for their help and encouragement with the project, without which I could not follow my dreams and passion for photographing trees.



Tree Story Playlist on YouTube

Continuing Work

Although my Artist Residency in Epping Forest finished in Spring 2018, I am still creating new work from the thousands of images I took. In November 2018, I had an exhibition at the Royal Horticultural Society's Hyde Hall in Essex where I displayed my work from Epping Forest as six collections in one large solo exhibition. These included the collections above: Beech Trees in Spring, Ancient Tree Portraits, Tree Story Photomontages & Galleries. It also included Epping Forest Seasons (with new additions) and a completely new collection of Roots & Bark in Black & White. All of these images can be viewed from this page.

In November 2018, I was thrilled that one of my Epping Forest images came 2nd in the Action Oak category of International Garden Photographer of the Year. The image is called Ancient Oak Reflection which is the first image in my Epping Forest Seasons Collection

My portfolio 'The Diversity of Beech Trees' was awarded an RHS Silver-Gilt medal at the RHS Botanical Art & Photography Show in Westminster in 2019.



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