The Forbidden Forest
Jonathan Olley is committed to documentary photography, moreover his work is strongly dedicated to the most objective illustration of things “the way they are” rather than “the way we would like them to be”. Although he is able to overcome the actuality of photo-reportage through motif selection and subtle interpretation, it is immediately clear that we are dealing with very distinctive aesthetics. Olley’s approach is often topographical and based on the long-term working processes which lead to extensive exploration of historical, social and cultural phenomena of chosen geographical places and milieus. The Forbidden Forest looks at the far-reaching effects of warfare on the landscape. The images focus on the battle for Verdun, in North-East France known as the “Zone Rouge”, which covers approximately 1200square kilometers, with limited public access since the armistice of 1919.
During the World War I, these hills and gorges were cratered by a continuous four-year-long, artillery bombardment more intense than any before and any since. The mature beech forests that cover the hills were home to some of the Great War’s most bitter fighting; as many as 150 shells fell for every square meter of this battlefield. As well as being the longest battle of the Great War, the Battle of Verdun also has the ignominy of being the first test of modern industrialised slaughter. Not for nothing was the battlefield known as “The Mincer.” or more poetically as “the Mill on the Meuse”, attributed to the Crown Prince Wilhelm, commander of Germany’s 5th Army. In the book A World Undone by G. J. Mayer Verdun was described as “the mill on the Meuse that ground to powder the hearts as well as the bodies of our soldiers.”
Miha Colner & Jonathan Olley