“The Harz National Park in Germany faces an unprecedented crisis. After two years of draught, several severe storms and the rapid spread of the bark beetle, its forests are extremely stressed and weakened,” Berlin-based graphic designer and photographer Philipp Apler began his introduction to his black and white series.
“Especially the large areas of spruce monocultures are affected by the beetle. One single tree can spawn more than 25,000 beetles and infect up to 600 other trees.”
From this statement alone, it’s easy to see that it’s going to be a bleak body of work. The clincher, however, is in the title: “The Dying Forest.”
Philipp’s black and white photography brings a different perspective to landscape photography that showcases sprawling forests and lush greenery. In this series, we are drawn to the plight of a forest on the verge of giving in to the natural cycle of death and rebirth.
Somber scenes of wispy woodlands
The decision to deliver this visual story in black and white proves to be a good choice for Philipp, as it effectively conveys the dismal state that the park forest is in. Wispy tree trunks and sparse foliage are emphasized by the clean and minimalist style, with just enough contrast to draw the eyes to the shapes and textures.
While this series can also have a darker and more ominous look, I think that wasn’t the intention here, but to create a sense of fragility in each scene and as a body of work.
With the absence of colors, the framing and angles take centerstage. Philipp used them to bring the story to light in the bare stretches of the forest where trees used to be, the chopped up remains of fallen trees and the ghostly forms of trees that hint at the grisly future awaiting them.
Of death and rebirth
Despite the grim fate of the forest, Philipp also notes that it’s not entirely sad news for the Harz National Park. It’s all part of the natural cycle of destruction and creation.
“Park authorities consider the forest’s dieback a natural process of regeneration and decided not to interfere. They hope that the monocultures will be replaced in the end by more resistant mixed forests. However, the private forest owners of the surrounding areas had no other choice than to cut down huge areas of forest trying to prevent the spread of the bark beetle. By now they lost about two thirds of their tree population. Their losses since 2018 are estimated at over 300 million Euros.”
There is one photo from the black and white collection that I think is one of the most thought-provoking: The healthy and ghostly trees blending together. We can choose to look at it as the infection spreading, or hold on to the hope that the forest will eventually heal itself.
All photos by Philipp Apler. Used with Creative Commons permission.