Into the Woods – about the display

Trees have long been a source of inspiration for artists. They can evoke a primal sense of wonder and the strong patterns of their branches, bark and leaves consistently offer visually arresting subjects. This display explores the diverse representation of trees in photography, with works by 40 photographers, including Paul Strand, Robert Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

When photography emerged in the mid-19th century, photographers recognised the potential of trees as a compelling source of imagery. While photographs of trees have served as botanical records, photographic artists have also looked to trees for creative expression.

Ansel Adams, Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958. Museum no. PH.1376-1980. © Ansel Adams

Trees were among the first photographic subjects collected by this Museum as a learning resource for artists and designers. The V&A has continued to acquire photographs of trees in various contexts: within landscapes and forests, as lone subjects, in relationship to humans, in rural and urban settings, and as symbols of cultural significance.

Gerhard Stromberg, Coppice (King’s Wood), 1994. Museum no. E.585-2001. © Gerhard Stromberg

As a photographic subject, trees hold a fascinating duality. They are constant in their long lifespans yet change with the seasons. Wild or cultivated, solitary or united, these contrasts offer photographers an abundance of possibilities.

Tal Shochat, Rimon (Pomegranate), 2011. Museum no. E.1127-2012. © Tal Shochat

The Into the Woods display is in Room 38a until 22 April, 2018. It marks the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, sealed in 1217 by King Henry III, and the launch of the 2017 Charter for Trees, Woods and People, an organisation that will reconnect people and trees and guide policy and practice in the UK.

Royal Engineers, Cutting on the 49th Parallel, on the Right Bank of the Mooyie River Looking West, about 1860. Museum no. 40090

A related display, Into the Woods: Trees in British Book Illustration, is in Room 102 until 28 January 2018.

Find out more in our book, Into the Woods: Trees in Photography.