Harry Borden and Mireille Thornton
“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”
Sir David Attenborough
Using portrait photography, poetry, and film to portray personal stories of relationships with trees and woodlands, Four Hugs Wide is an ongoing project creating and communicating a powerful collective vision of humanity and arboreal nature.
While news media tells of disappearing forests and woodlands, we began with a simple desire to explore today’s reality of people and trees in a new and collaborative way, to see what we might discover in a seemingly obscure and shrinking arboreal world.
We had also each felt the personal mental health impacts of missing and vanishing trees in different places. Perhaps we were wanting to reconnect to something more meaningful, too.
The open curiosity and wonder of solastalgia we set out with, however, seems a tiny spark before the people in Four Hugs Wide. They include artists, scientists, educators, arborealists, crafters, musicians and singers, writers, mental health workers, shamans, hedgewitches, gardeners, iron-age tool makers, sailors, tree-planting festival organisers, tree listeners, children, activists, urban foresters, community workers, farmers, foragers, entrepreneurs, designers and makers – all have taken us much further than our back-then-imaginations.
Like trees to a forest, the stories in Four Hugs Wide connect beyond individual experience into the greater political sphere, making the project, albeit micro, ever more prescient. The dominant discourse of current world affairs now is one of escalating ecological and cultural crises.
Anxieties and conflicted reactions that destabilizing events, politics and economics are fomenting challenge us even more severely in that mainstream/legacy and alt-right media and social media bubbles rarely offer visions of the positive, life-sustaining, alternative ways of living that do exist.
How we live, and if we live in recognition of our dependence on the natural world, matters. Trees — with their power to provide and symbolise, growing, communicating and enduring in the dark and the light — evoke this truth.
Perhaps this is why life’s challenges, matters of love, life-lessons and self-reflections anchor the stories shared in Four Hugs Wide. Transcending experiences of trauma, anxiety, grief and other health issues, and of developing resilience through nature connection, are stood by and mirrored in portrait.
The ancient, present and ever-evolving ways we are entwined with and embodied in nature, and the deep connections between the people here and their arboreal companions, are real, alive and beautiful.
We hope you enjoy what you find.
Selected work from the project has been shown at the Plough Arts Centre, Devon in January – March 2020 and in summer 2021 outdoors in Bristol thanks to Jack Arts / Build Hollywood. This latter exhibition linked with World Conservation Day on 28th July, in the spirit of that celebration intended to grow awareness of our capacities to nurture and protect life on Earth.