Westonbirt Magazine

Autumn 2017

The photograph that changed my life

Jane Gifford is a professional photographer. She tells us how her first encounter with Westonbirt helped her to burst onto the national scene.

Westonbirt Arboretum has held a special place in my life for many years. I never grow tired of it. For me, as a professional photographer and writer, it’s a magical place full of inspiration.

I have been coming here since the mid eighties and although I have visited hundreds of times, I can honestly say there is always something new to discover.

I am still excited each year when early rhododendrons and magnolias herald the onset of spring and I can look forward to the mass eruption of flowers and tender new leaves which follow. I love the sweet scent of lime blossom on the summer air, when the downland is bright with wild flowers. There are always new berries and fantastical seeds to find in autumn, all against a backdrop of extraordinary primary colours. Snow brings a mystical silence and special beauty to the arboretum, where winter flowers bloom bright, like mahonia with its delicious fragrance and delicate witch-hazels.

One glorious autumn, the evening light turned a Blue Atlas Cedar so blue it was stunning and I was lucky enough to capture the moment on film. Little did I know at the time that this picture would change my life. I sent it off to House & Garden Magazine, along with a series of shots from Acer Glade, and was delighted when they not only published the pictures but also commissioned me to write a feature to accompany them.

First of all World Magazine asked to use it and commissioned me to write and illustrate a further feature about the arboretum. Then Country Living Magazine did the same. It was used in a book about the making of the British countryside which I photographed and co-authored with Professor David Bellamy, called Wilderness Britain – a green print for the future. This book came to the attention of Kodak, who commissioned me to design, write and provide the photographs for the 1994 International Kodak Calendar which had an environmental theme. The Blue Atlas Cedar took pride of place in October.

My career as a photographer and writer grew out of this one shot, which gave me the courage to earn a living as a photo-journalist, as each new commission opened the door to new opportunities. I want to say thank you for all that the trees of Westonbirt have done for me. I will be eternally grateful to that Blue Atlas Cedar for kick-starting my career and I still look forward to every new visit to the arboretum.

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