Black locust tree in summer and autumn

Five minutes in nature: Certainty in trees

Museum PhD student Kate Howlett writes:

As we approach having been in lockdown, in some form or other, for almost a year, I’ve come to be incredibly grateful for the gentle giants I can see through the windows of my flat—the trees. There is something comforting in watching the same trees every day for a whole year; watching them change colour through the seasons provides certainty, perspective and calm as they live out their lives on a timescale longer than our own.

Film photography is much like spending time with a tree. It forces you to slow down, pause and be present, making you think and consider before pressing the button. The whole thing is a considered, slow process, grounded in something physical and certain. I’ve enjoyed dabbling in film photography since I was 15 years old, and, since I had a barely begun roll of film in my camera at the start of lockdown last March, I thought I would try to document the trees I was spending time with through my window.

Black locust tree in summer and autumn
Our next-door neighbour’s black locust tree—a stunning vibrant green all through summer before turning rust-coloured in September. Image credit: Kate Howlett

Looking back at the photographs now, and out at the trees, gives me a comforting appreciation of time passing at a certain, plodding pace—a much needed sense that contrasts with both the fast pace of the news and the seeming standstill we’ve all been in for a year. It also gives me a sense of belonging to my local patch, which can be so important in a year of isolation and feeling cut off from everything around you.

An oak tree through the seasons
An oak tree in London, showing just some of its many colours. Image credit: John Howlett.

I might well have picked up this habit from my dad, who once decided to photograph the same tree every month for a year back home in London. Whatever originally gave me the idea, I hope you enjoy seeing the omnipresence of trees in these photographs and in your own surroundings, and maybe you’ll try photographing your local gentle giants as we move from winter into spring. If you do, I hope it brings you the same joy and calm as it has me.

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