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On Display: Charles March’s “Wood Land”

A unique technique gives this British Lord’s photographs an abstract effect

If you visit the Venus Over Manhattan gallery in New York City during the next few weeks, you might think you’ve walked into an exhibit of carefully composed oil paintings depicting a forest. But upon closer inspection, it’s clear that these striking, sometimes haunting images aren’t the work of a paintbrush. Instead, the images in budding photographer and British Lord Charles March’s Wood Land get their brushstroke effect from actual movement of the camera in each shot, providing an abstract, painting-like feel to a typically realist medium.

“I didn’t want them to be too much about a particular place,” says Lord March,”but more a feeling about what a place is.”

A descendant of the aristocratic dynasty of the Dukes of Richmond and Lennox, Lord March spends most of his days running the 12,000-acre Goodwood estate in West Sussex, England. The family home plays host to a variety of sporting and motor racing events as well as provides a backdrop for his photography, a lifelong personal passion of his. “This series has grown up quite a bit since the first lot, which was purely for myself!” March says. “They’ve certainly gotten more abstract, more figurative.”

DuJour caught up with Lord March at the Wood Land opening to talk about the estate, his technique and how he manages to balance work with play.

Red Copse, 2014

Red Copse, 2014

You’ve had a longstanding background in photography. How did you first become interested in it?

Well, I’ve been taking pictures since I was about 10, so it’s always been an absolute passion of mine. I left school very early and was fortunate enough to get a job with Stanley Kubrick when I was about 17. I did repertoire photography for magazines for a while and then decided I wanted to do advertising photography, high production value work with lots of special effects—very complicated stuff. London was the best place in the world then for that sort of work, and advertising was at its absolute peak. We’d spend weeks and weeks taking one picture. Budgets were huge—it was a different world.

But, my family has this great estate, and I was called back to sort that out and manage the business. I’ve been running that for 20 years now, and I’m still taking pictures for myself. It’s very different in that there’s no client; I’m just doing it for my own pleasure, really.

Now that you’re taking pictures for yourself, what drew you to nature photography?

The very earliest photographs ever taken were pretty much of trees, and at that time in the 19th century there was a real sensibility that photography could reproduce nature in divine ways—that this chemistry of pure science and art, together, could create an absolute representation of nature. I find it interesting to keep going back to the same subject with a modern approach.

The exhibition space

The exhibition space

How did you develop your approach?

As with all photography in the end, it’s all about the light. To get an abstract look, I move the camera as I’m shooting and capture the effect of the movement and how it reacts to the plane of the subject matter. By focusing on a particular highlight in the scenery and moving the camera, it wipes the film in a brush-like way. It could be a vertical movement, horizontal, or even a shake. I take hundreds to get the perfect shot. What’s important is that some of the photograph has to stay sharp to keep it from being a blurry mess, so I make sure to keep a degree of sharpness in each shot. There’s a human interruption going on, and it all depends on how much highlight the subject has on it, and how I’m moving the camera. The photographs become more of an impression of a place, as it takes a bit of time to stamp itself on the film.

So, seriously, how do you manage to run an estate and find time to do a passion project like this for yourself? 

Sleepless nights! 

That’s it? Is that the key to success? 

Yes, no sleep! That’s when I work, late at night. But I’m doing what I love, and that makes the rest of the day more bearable.

Wood Land is on display at Venus Over Manhattan through February 7, 2015.

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