Forest as Metaphor | John Vink | Granta

Forest as Metaphor

John Vink

‘Trees, mostly the older and weaker ones, were toppled by the wind, dragging neighbouring trees down, just like someone contaminated by the virus would contaminate another.’

I am seventy-two. I avoid social contact because I am supposed to be at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19. The Sonian Forest, a ten-minute walk from my home is a safe alternative to escape the pandemic besides the confinement cocoon. The confinement rules in Belgium allow for its access, provided social distancing is maintained, and it gives people in Brussels an opportunity to escape the constraints imposed by the Covid-19 outbreak. But mentally there is no escaping a pandemic.

Even the forest seems to replicate what we humans go through. A succession of three storms hit the forest at the very beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak in Belgium. Trees, mostly the older and weaker ones, were toppled by the wind, dragging neighbouring trees down, just like someone contaminated by the virus would contaminate another. A second reason for the falling trees is that they can’t grow their roots deep enough because the soil is too compact, as if it was as stubborn and impenetrable as certain human minds. The roots of the huge fallen trees were exposed, revealing their weaknesses, much like our complex human vulnerability and weaknesses of greed, selfishness and incredulity were exposed. The fallen trees leave a chaos of broken and intertwined branches and trunks on the ground, similar to the disparate and conflicting stream of information people have been confronted with at the beginning of the virus outbreak.

But that chaos also creates small ecosystems, proof of a sustaining resilience. Also, the children who are allowed to play in the forest during the confinement can’t resist starting to build things, gathering branches, constructing shelters, benches and imaginary worlds.

Most of the photographs were taken with my father’s camera, a Leica III dating from 1937. My father was born in 1918, at the start of the Spanish flu. Somehow, shooting analog feels more appropriate, more in tune with today’s rhythm. The process is slower, results have a higher risk of failure and there is a higher price to pay for that failure. Gestures and the thought process have to be more precise and pertinent. With analog, much less is for granted. Disappointment occurs more often. Again there are so many analogies with the situation right now. Getting out of the Covid-19 thing and moving back to the apparently secure feeling given by digital, despite all its illusions and temptations to manipulate and deceive is still tempting though. Maybe life is just about finding the right pace.



Images and text © John Vink / MAPS

John Vink

John Vink was born in Belgium in 1948. He studied photography at the fine arts school of La Cambre in 1968 and began working as a freelance journalist three years later. He joined Agence Vu' in Paris in 1986 and won the Eugene Smith Award that year for his work Water in the Sahel, an extensive body of reportage on the management of water in the Sahel. Between 1987 and 1993 he compiled a major work on refugees around the world; the book Réfugiés was published in 1994. He created and published Themes a photography magazine dedicated to documentary photography.

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