When Guardian photographer Chris Thomond volunteered to spend a year photographing a tree, he spent “a mad couple of weeks auditioning trees” – sending photos of them to his picture editors. “Many were an hour away from my home and we realised we needed something nearby. As I was driving along one day, 10 minutes from my house on the edge of Manchester, I saw a farmer repairing a fence and said, ‘You probably think I’m bonkers, but have you got any nice-looking trees?’ He was a bit wary but then he said, ‘I think I’ve got just the one. People are forever photographing it.’ It just went from there.”
You probably think I’m bonkers but have you got any nice-looking trees?
Peter Duxbury’s family have farmed the land close to the village of Greenmount in Greater Manchester for six generations – 150 years. Peter, who is 71 and farms with his son and grandson, grew up here. The lone oak in a little hollow formed in the Ice Age has long been a distinctive presence in the landscape. It is marked on maps from the 1840s and Peter, who has measured the tree, guesses it is at least 200 years old.
We just call it the old oak tree, and the meadow is the oak meadow
The surrounding landscape is a perfectly ordinary slice of gently undulating and extremely green British countryside. It’s not twee and that’s part of its attraction. “Unless there’s a bit of snow around, it’s not calendar material in my opinion,” says Chris. “No one is going to look and think, what an amazing, remarkable tree. The tree is just a little dot on the planet which we’ve homed in on for 12 months. We could have found more beautiful trees, but it might not have been so interesting.”
On his first visit to look at the tree in November 2015 it was a misty day and Chris didn’t notice the power lines behind it. “My heart sank when I first saw them,” he admits, “but I thought, there’s got to be a way to get a clean background.” In the end, he turns them to his advantage. By lining up the tree so that its trunk obscures one of the pylons, he can take the same shot of the tree each time he visits, using the same 28mm lens.
Chris visits at different times of day, in varying light and weather conditions. When it snows in January, he can’t get to it for two days because he is busy with other work. “There have been a few days when it snowed and when I’ve had to be somewhere else in the country,” he says.
Halfway up the M6 I’ve had pangs of guilt and thought, I should’ve done my tree
It is not yet spring. Spring is being dreamed – Edward Thomas
For the first few months photographing the tree, Chris was worried. The winter was long and nothing changed, apart from the shortening shadow cast by the oak across the green pasture. “I kept thinking, it’s the same picture, it’s the same picture,” he says. “I needed confidence that over time it would change.”
- Two very different March views, a snowy day and a warm sunset on 30 March
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