The Understory is the ecological classification for the lowest-most layer of undergrowth on the rainforest floor. Where animal and plant life abounds, but sunlight is scarcest.
An ongoing series developed during a period of five years, The Understory uncovers an extinct sugar plantation in the rainforest of St Lucia. A rumination on the reciprocity of past and present, examining the concealed history of the place – to which the dense forest has stood witness.
In low light, camera and film are tools for archaeology; a vehicle for traversing new territory. Yet from the umbra of the forest floor, only glimpses of the past are offered. The decaying plantation house, with ornate awnings now crumbling. The arches of a former sugar cane store, succumbed to burgeoning vegetation. The ruined skeleton of the church, built for the slaves of the plantation – permitted only to worship in fortnightly shifts. A spectral calabash, ripe with fruit – the national tree, whose nectar is a restorative medicine. Physical wounds can be healed, but societal trauma made never fade. This is not a place of memorial – not even of memory. What prevails is the overwhelming victory of nature; swathes of human stories within its grasp.
The complex and often subtle tensions that characterise places marked by human-hands cannot be overlooked. Yet, how, as outsiders, do we confront these conflicts? Shining light on the fiction of the wilderness, The Understory underscores the fundamental fact of landscape as a cultural environment – questioning the relationship between the appearance of a landscape and the human narratives it conceals. Asking us to consider our role in the landscape: to address our responsibility to listen as well as to speak, in its ever-unfolding state of becoming.
Louise Long is a photographer and writer based in Hackney, London. Her work centres around stories of people, place and culture; seeking to negotiate her physical encounter with an environment, with the less visible narratives beneath its surface.
Her work has been published widely in editorial and book form, exhibited in Europe and the US, and shaped through international artist residencies in locations such as New York and Paris and Sweden. She holds an MA in Fine Art Photography from the Royal College of Art and a BA in Art History from Cambridge University.
Louise is also the Founder of Linseed Journal, an independent print publication of cultural ecology.