In a recent TED talk forest ecologist Suzanne Simard explained the science that shows that forests are not mere collections of trees but living, interacting networks of plants and fungi. With its nodes, hubs and interconnections, this network indeed has a lot of similarity with the Internet and thus the term “Wood Wide Web” has been coined for it. The research further shows, that through this network, trees support their offspring, share resources or communicate dangers and insect attacks.
You might wonder, what this has to do with photography. Well, for me learning about the Wood Wide Web a couple of years ago was one of these defining moments when the view of something familiar changes in profound ways. These are true watershed moments in our lives, where darkness in our understanding is suddenly lit up by insight. While in darkness we couldn’t imagine that there is light and once our mind lit up we can’t go back or even imagine our darkness-worldview anymore. The genie out of the bottle can’t be put back.
Coming from a fairly self-sufficient culture in Germany, learning foreign languages and experiencing other cultures have, for example, provided similar moments for me. For mankind, finding that the Earth is not flat and circles the sun, relativity and seeing Earth from space might have provided likewise moments of no return. In fact, everyone looks a bit stupid/naïve from a perspective 100 years down the line. We can therefore always safely assume that we don’t have the full picture, that we are partly mistaken about almost everything, and yes that we are mostly in the dark.
Art, and consequently photography as art, is in my view about finding and communicating creative new ways to see the world. Thus, in its best moments art itself creates these watershed events; for my part I can’t imagine a world before cubism or abstract art, they have become part of my history as much as they have become part of world history.
Likewise, the Wood Wide Web highlights how our modern view of nature has turned from an interest in single objects and their behavior towards systems, processes and forces. And if we now dig in the forest and see the “white stuff” (the fungi mycelium) under the surface, things that we cannot see, like how the forest interacts through the mycelium fill in our understanding of what we see.
But this seems to me a true challenge for a photographer: how to photograph things that we cannot see, how to photograph the Wood Wide Web? I don’t think, a mere picture of mycelium will get us there. But if you still do your daily practice in Observism, maybe you come up with an idea?