I first met Rob when we both worked on the group project Sixteen, a photographic touring exhibition involving sixteen international photographers making portraits and exploring the dreams, hopes and fears of sixteen-year olds across the UK. The idea came about thanks to Craig Easton and I loved the collaborative aspect of this project, working alongside artists I admire and, much like being part of Document Scotland, really valued working as a group.
I caught up with Rob recently about a different project he’s been working on with TreeStory, he told us a little about the photographs and the work the organisation is doing. I hope you enjoy his wonderful images.
Rachel Watt – Tree Planter – Rachel has planed over 5 million in trees in her career in Scotland. She will over see around half of the planting of 650,000 native trees of local origin on the this mull project.. Image © Robert C. Brady 2021 all rights reserved.
DS: Hi Rob – nice to chat with you again, can you give us a little background about this latest body of work?
Scotland was once covered in a mosaic of Atlantic (or ‘Celtic’) temperate rainforest, supporting a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Human interaction over the centuries has reduced this extensive ancient forest to less than 1% and the remains are in rapid decline.
TreeStory is a community of foresters committed to building a future where people and planet can thrive together. They envision a revitalised Scottish landscape through re-foresting and re-wilding.On this particular project TreeStory has been working with the owner of “Torosay Hill Estate” on the Isle of Mull aims to provide an inspirational example to reverse the habitat decline by undertaking an ambitious programme of landscape-scale woodland restoration that stimulates the thriving of indigenous habitats and the enrichment of the biodiversity within a 150-year vision.In 2020 I was commissioned to begin documenting this process photographically.
Rachel Watt. 500 Hectares of this Mull estate will be re-planted. Woodland expansion has been designed around protecting and expanding the current fragments of woodland alongside seeking locations with the best mineral soils, which provide the greatest opportunities for woodland regeneration. Image © Robert C. Brady 2021 all rights reserved.
Paddy Cooper – Tree Planter. Paddy lives in his van when working away tree planting. It is an emotional holiday from his everyday life but with huge environmental purpose he explains. Image © Robert C. Brady 2020 all rights reserved.
Paddy plants in a sea of purple moor grass – Milena cesentosa. This area should be to be a species rich wet heathland. Due to overgrazing by deer and sheep and burning off, It’s now a more of degraded species poor wet heathland, dominated purple moor grass. Image © Robert C. Brady 2020 all rights reserved.
Tree planting scheduled between 2019 and 2021 will aim to restore the woodland canopy across the estate by planting approximately 650,000 native trees of local origin, It will be one of the largest project of its kind in the UK. Woodland expansion has been designed around protecting and expanding the current fragments of woodland alongside seeking locations with the best mineral soils, which provide the greatest opportunities for woodland regeneration.
The design is comprised of three large-scale deer-fenced exclosures that will produce a mosaic of habitats to benefit both the existing heathland and mire habitats as well as facilitating woodland regeneration. The project is currently around half-way through the operational stages with over 300,000 trees already planted!The owners vision for this Mull project is centred round the conviction that thriving wilderness landscapes can provide inspirational catalysts for deep personal change and that transformed individuals and communities can then become beacons for change towards a more sustainable world. To that end the vision for this project is about much more than woodland restoration but also around developing innovative opportunities for individuals and communities to participate in meaningful engagement with the landscape and the restoration process.
Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris, ready for planting – Pollen analysis by Aberdeen university revealed Scots pine in the Mull historical pollen record. Image © Robert C. Brady 2020 all rights reserved.
My documentation will continue. I’m shooting analogue film on the whole for this project as I’m happier shooting documentary work on film. Film has a certain tangibility for me that I like. I also enjoy the process of being slower and more considered about what and when I shoot. I’m shooting this whole series on 2 Fuji 6×9 II, 65mm 5.6 fixed and 90mm 3.5 fixed lenses. It’s known as the Texas Leica…its a huge rangefinder. Makes a hilarious “TWANG” when the shutter goes. 8 shots in a roll off 120mm! It’s a lovely big neg. I like the simplicity, portability and speed of them. No mirror, no motor, no batteries, no autofocus, no light meter… just 100% basic mechanical wind on heaven.
Scottish Oak , Quercus petraea, The final act in the death of a tree is trunk decay and break. Graphic, visceral and fatal. Image © Robert C. Brady 2020 all rights reserved.
Scottish Oak, Quercus petraea, The final act in the death of a tree is trunk decay and break. The canopy topples over and tries to re-root. Often to no avail. Without trees the landscape is slowly retreating back to a species poor wet heathland. Image © Robert C. Brady 2020 all rights reserved.
In all weathers, 14 miles of deer fence will be built at this Mull site. Woodland regeneration and re-wilding uses large-scale deer-fenced exclosures that produce a mosaic of habitats to benefit both the existing heathland and mire habitats as well as facilitating woodland regeneration. Image © Robert C. Brady 2020 all rights reserved.
DS: What got you started on photography in the first place, how did your career begin?
Aged 18, I went to University in Liverpool to study Zoology. On graduation I travelled globally for years and eventually decided my work would be my life, not a 9 to 5 job. So in a bold move I went back to college in London, completed an art foundation and discovered photography. I then went on to complete a post grad in photojournalism at the LCP/LCC, and began assisting Craig Easton. After 4 years of assisting and I got a staff job as a photographer at a London based Travel Magazine. I was shooting global travel features, front covers, news and everything else I could. A baptism of fire. All pre digital…a diet of Nikon FM2’s, Kodak colour slide and chaos!
After 5 years I was exhausted and decided it was time to go freelance and chase the commercial work to fund my documentary interests. I did so in Feb 2004. I’ve been freelance ever since. I left London as a freelance in 2005. I packed my bags and headed north.
Scotland is now my adopted home of 16 years and I’m now also finally re-engaged with the documentary work I always wanted to shoot. My TreeStory work is a real home coming for me. Back to shooting film and back to why I wanted to be a photographer. To document, to communicate and to learn.
Donald Campbell – Deer Fencer. Donald is way beyond 60 and still works outside everyday in all west coast weathers. The job is a heavy manual and physical one. He’s a stoic and good humoured Scotsman. His work leading the fencers on this project is of huge significance. Without fences, deer would eat 80% of young trees. Image © Robert C. Brady 2020 all rights reserved.
Angus Campbell – Deer Fencer. The young gun, Angus has only been fencing for a handful of years. He carries the same swagger and good humour as Donald. An outdoor life humour. Image © Robert C. Brady 2020 all rights reserved.
DS: You worked with Craig Easton, a great friend of Document Scotland, on the group project Sixteen, what I loved about this project was seeing how differently all of us approched the project. How did you find the experience?
Craig has been a friend and colleague for 25 years. He’s had a big influence on my work over many years. He’s a great documentary photography. I have enormous respect for him and his work. I know how he works and ticks so collaboration was very fluid and a delight.
I was honoured to be asked to contribute to the 16 project. Such a diverse compliment of talented UK photographers and such a good central idea. It was a great experience to engage and chat and swap ideas with all 16 photographers. I was humbled by the lack of ego and commitment to communicate the project by all. Working collaboratively is always such a great experience both socially, emotionally and photographically. I’ve generally worked solo for nearly 20 years, it was much needed. I’d encourage every photographer to work collaboratively with other! It brings a whole new dynamic that is really beneficial. Social media can fuel comparison and negativity towards other artists, you have to break that by reaching out and collaborating.
My 16 role was in a moving image capacity which was changeling and enlightening, as I’d shot a few client based moving image projects. I treated the documentary of Craig working with Stephanie Wilson as a series of “moving stills” in a documentary style. Craig and I had roughly storyboarded what we thought the story was…but we remained open to change and influence from Stephanie, as you have to be when working in a documentary way. Hardest challenge is to not influence the narrative yourself, just let it come. The entire process was a collaboration between Craig and I really. From shot list to audio to edit.
DS: What’s next for you?
A better balance between commercial and more documentary work without doubt. Commercial work is important to survive and great fun…but documentary work is the real passion. I’ll continue with my re-wilding and re-foresting of Scotland project and hopefully return to a few USA projects which been derailed due to covid. I’d like to shoot more Scotland focused documentary projects also, this is a great country and could be on verge of a new an exciting future outside of Westminster influence.
DS: Thank you, I couldn’t agree more about the collaborative aspect of working, now more than ever connection and community is important to me. It’s been lovely to learn about this qwork and I wish you well with it. They are beautiful images. Thank you for sharing them with us.