When we moved to Georgia, it was meant to be just another iteration of a well-established pattern; one of us secures work in another country, both move and the other finds similar work within six months. This time, however, it didn’t quite work like that and, within a year or so, my partner-in-crime (Sandrine) found herself teaching science at a French school in Tbilisi. It was supposed to be just a temporary measure, filling time before the next “proper” opportunity came along. Then, she fell in love with it and, a few years later, made the bold step of swapping one career for another; from conservationist to pedagogue. In order to make it a practical option, however, she needed to formalise her experience and, to do this, she would have to spend a year or two within the French system (she is French, by the way).
Having spent the previous seven years coordinating projects and building a regional programme, for Fauna & Flora International, I jumped at the chance of taking some time out. For me, it was an opportunity to focus my attention on becoming a more serious (i.e. better) photographer.
I had, not long before the move, lost my prized Canon 6D to an unscrupulous thief whilst attempting to climb Mount Kazbeg, and so my first task was to replace it. Fortuitously (there’s always a silver lining) this was all coincident with the release of the Canon 5D Mark IV and so I decided to invest a fair chunk of my savings into the upgrade. It wasn’t long before I was out in the French countryside seeing what I could do with my new-found freedom and freshly purchased DSLR.
So it was, whilst out one morning, with Monty (a stray dog who had adopted us back in Tbilisi), that I came across Belecombe woods, not far from where we were living, in the Auvergne region of France. This was early January and snow had been falling for several days, penetrating the relatively dense cover of a conifer woodland on the periphery of the forest. At the time, the sun was already climbing high on its daily ascent but, as I stood at the forest edge, dog noisily urging me to continue the walk, I surmised that an early-morning sun would shine straight through the trees, illuminating them and making for an interesting composition.
The next day I returned, just before sunrise, and set up the tripod and camera in anticipation. I took several shots that morning (much to the annoyance of an ever-fussing Monty), trying various settings and compositions, before settling on this one; the sun trapped between two pole-straight trees right in the centre of the frame. The deep snow reflected enough of the early-morning sunlight to maintain the details of the trees in this back-lit scene, whilst the fallen branches in the bottom right corner provided some asymmetry to the otherwise ordered composition.
As part of my evolution as a photographer, I had started regularly entering images into various competitions. When I came across the details for a competition being organised by the international NGO, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), I immediately saw the opportunity. The call was divided into several national competitions with the winners of these put forward for the international level.
As there was, obviously, a forest theme to the competition I entered my “Morning Star” image, into the French national competition. I was, of course, delighted when the image won but, when I received an e-mail several weeks later, telling me that I had gone on to win the international competition (which entailed a generous cash prize), I was ecstatic. The boost to my creative-morale was immeasurable and the prize money generously awarded allowed me to upgrade some of my equipment (as well as pay the rent).
The winning photo was announced at the PEFC Forest Certification week, held in Helsinki in November, where, along with 11 other national-level winners, it is being exhibited for the duration of the conference. It will also be featured in the organisations 2018 “Experience Forests. Experience PEFC” calendar and will be published in EOS magazine.