Archival postcard. Gwydyr Castle in Wales. Large topiary of yew tree next to historical castle under overcast sky.  Caernarfonshire, Wales. Taxus baccata.

Yew Tree Topiary at Gwydyr Castle (Caernarfonshire, Wales). Date unknown. Found archival postcard. Published by Raphael Tuck & Sons.

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Bleeding Yew 

2020 - Ongoing

Funded by an Arts Council England 'Develop Your Creative Practice' project grant (2023 - 2024).

(The content of this project contains some references to sexual violence and paedophilia).

Bleeding Yew is a multimedia research project exploring the yew trees' (Taxus species) unique regenerative abilities. I employ anthropomorphic metaphors to consider yew trees agents of change in reparations following abuses of power.

Landscape photography. Leeds. West Yorkshire. Bleeding Yew. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Medium format photography. 120mm photo.

Leeds (West Yorkshire, England). Medium format photograph. 2020.

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Landscape photography. Leeds. West Yorkshire. Bleeding Yew. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD.  Medium format photography. 120mm photo.

Leeds (West Yorkshire, England). 2020.

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Bardsea. Lancashire. England. Yew trees. Historical photograph. Early twentieth century. Vintage postcard. Raphael Tuck & Sons. Yew tree. Archival image. Taxus baccata.

Bardsea (Lancarshire, England). c.1904. Found archival postcard. Published by Raphael Tuck & Sons.

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Forty archival yew-related artefacts found in online libraries were collected throughout the project’s research period. These artefacts inspired new Land Art informed landscapes and still life works in analogue, as well as cyanotypes toned with beetroot emulsion and self-portraits in digital photography. By studying the regenerative growth patterns of yew trees, the project aims to shed light on often invisible histories of sexual violence.

Five locations across the UK are featured in photography made from 2020-2023: Leeds (West Yorkshire), Morvern (Scottish Highlands), Kingley Vale (South Downs, West Sussex), Cumbria, and Stanmer Village (East Sussex). 

An early stage of the project involved applying vegetable beetroot paint to different parts of woodland trees, inspired by bloodlike ‘sap bleeding’ that occurs naturally on some yew trees, especially after rainfall. These open insides highlight the yew’s capacity to grow outwards. The application of the dye pairs the appearance of human blood drawn from traumatic injuries, both emotional and physical, with the regenerative potentials of the yew.


Land-art photography. Red vegetable dye eco-paint applied to torn patch of autumnal woodland tree. Bleeding Yew. Leeds. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Medium format photography. 120mm photo.

Painted Bleeding Tree. Strained Vegetable Beetroot Paint Applied to Torn Patch on Woodland Tree at Roundhay Park in Leeds (West Yorkshire, England). Medium format photograph. 2020.


‘The body hurries to heal itself, even as it’s dying’ (The Red Parts, Maggie Nelson). 

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Land-art photography. Red vegetable dye eco-paint applied to removed branches on autumnal woodland tree. Bleeding Yew. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Medium format photography. 120mm photo.

Painted Bleeding Tree. Strained Vegetable Beetroot Paint Applied to Removed 'Limbs' (Branches) on Woodland Tree at Gledhow Valley Woods in Leeds (West Yorkshire, England). Medium format photograph. 2020.

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Land-art photography. Red vegetable dye eco-paint applied to torn bracket fungi on autumnal woodland tree. Bleeding Yew. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Medium format photography. 120mm photo.

Painted Bleeding Tree. Strained Vegetable Beetroot Paint Applied to Bracket Fungi on Woodland Tree at Gledhow Valley Woods in Leeds (West Yorkshire, England). Medium format photograph. 2021.

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Bleeding Yew took as its starting point the purportedly neutral name of the investigation into Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuse crimes: Operation Yewtree. Savile, one of the most recognisable television hosts in the UK, was responsible for at least 450 sex offences (328 committed against children). 

Popular national institutions became implicated in preserving a predatory media culture, helping Savile to hide in plain sight. For instance, Savile had close ties to the royal family, including Princess Diana and Prince Charles, who sought advice from him on how to connect with the public.

Operation Yewtree was launched in October 2012, the same year I graduated from a high school located in close vicinity of his flat in Leeds. In between, on ‘Soldiers’ Field’, were also the sites of where several Peter Sutcliffe (known as the Yorkshire Ripper) attacks took place in the 1970s.

The three 'Painted Bleeding Trees' works were made in close vicinity to these locations. 

Landscape still life photography. Scottish highland landscape window view. Bleeding Yew. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Medium format photography. 120mm photo.

View from the Kitchen on the Croft, Rhemore, over the Isle of Mull. (Morvern, Scotland). Medium format photograph. 2021.

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Archival photograph. Black and white. Yew bow. Workbench. The Field Museum. Yew trees. Wood work. Taxus baccata.

Yew Longbows on F.S. Barnes' Workbench at Forest Grove (Oregon, U.S.A). 1910. Found archival photograph. The Field Museum Library Archive, Chicago. Digital Identifier: CSB33100.

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Paint preparation. Knife. Movern. Scotland. Scottish Highlands. Beetroot. Bleeding Yew. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Medium format photography. 120mm photo.  Still life.

Paint Preparation - Sliced Beetroot in the Kitchen on the Croft, Rhemore (Morvern, Scotland). Medium format photograph. 2020.


‘Red is a position in the middle’ (Seated Figure with Red Angle, Anne Carson).

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Yew bow. Field Museum Library. Archival Image. Taxus Baccata. H.R. Richardson. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Archival photography. Archives. Black and white.  Bleeding Yew.

H.R. Richardson's Yew Bow at Forest Grove (Oregon, U.S.A). 1910. Found archival photograph. The Field Museum Library Archive, Chicago. Digital Identifier: CSB33100.

 

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Landscape photography. Scottish highlands. Morvern. Sound of Mull. Isle of Mull. Bleeding Yew. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Medium format photography. 120mm photo.

The Isle of Mull from Rhemore. (Morvern, Scotland). Medium format photograph. 2021.

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This series hopes to defy nonchalant violence. One element of this was to symbolically re-claim space in the land. In November 2021, journeying on public transport from London to the Scottish Highlands, I broadened my arboreal knowledge while considering the hypothetical danger of travelling alone. 

During a weekend on Morvern with Woodland Trust foresters, five of us explored the land around their ‘Croft’ (a unique farmland ownership system). 

I learnt that neighbouring mono-culture timber plantations dominating the wider Highland landscape contrast with the land across the Croft. There, ancient habitat-forming woodland ecosystems rewild and increase carbon stores, as Highland cows also help to do. 

Akin to these patches of ancient woodland, ancient yew trees also provide manifold possibilities for animal habitats and food, as well as mineral and nutrient dispersion around their extensive root systems.

Portrait of woman under tree canopy. Yew tree. Taxus baccata.

Self Portrait Under Yew Tree at Stanmer Village (East Sussex, England). Digital photograph. 2023.

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Stoke Gabriel yew tree. Devon. Extended branches. Ancient yew tree. Taxus baccata. Photography Archives.

Supported Yew Tree Branches at Stoke Gabriel (Devon, England). c.1936. Found archival postcard. Published by Raphael Tuck & Sons.

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Hands holding tree branch. Yew tree. Taxus baccata. Bleeding Yew.

Hands Holding Yew (East Sussex, England). Digital photograph. 2023.

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Old postcard showing extended branches of yew tree canopy. Near Stanton. Whittingehame. East Lothian.  Historical photograph. Yew history. Taxus baccata. Bleeding Yew. Archives. Photography Archives.

Whittingehame Village Yew (East Lothian, Scotland). c.1938. Found archival postcard. Published by Raphael Tuck & Sons. Published by Raphael Tuck & Sons.

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Portrait of woman with yew tree branch. Taxus baccata. Bleeding Yew.

Self Portrait with Yew Tree at Stanmer Village (East Sussex, England). Digital photograph. 2023.

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Yew trees emerge from this journey and my archival investigations as figures of wisdom and warning. Yew are negotiators of change: they grow to be thousands of years old and are commonly associated with death, purgatory, and re-generation, and are often found near religious sites of worship. The yew tree is not a neutral symbol.

Bio-electric studies have shown Taxus employs root systems with the highest vitality among trees, investing heavily in them as seedlings, making yew extremely adaptive (Yew: A History, Fred Hageneder). 

Extended branches of the tree can root new trunks when they touch the ground. These rhizomatic, expansive growths have formed ancient groves like at Kingley Vale. In some trees here, patches of bark seep deep ruddy and mauve sap.

Arboreal photography. Ancient yew tree at Kingley Vale in the South Downs. Taxus baccata. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Bleeding Yew. Medium format photography. 120mm photo.

Elder Tree in Ancient Yew Grove at Kingley Vale in the South Downs (West Sussex, England). Medium format photograph. 2022.

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Cyanotype using acetate and yew plant material. Toned with beetroot emulsion. Camera-less photography process. Darkroom. Yew tree needles. Taxus baccata. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD.

Oliver Under Yew at Kingley Vale in the South Downs (West Sussex, England). Cyanotype toned with beetroot juice emulsion.

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Arboreal photography. Landscape. Tree branches. Horizontality. Rhizome. Ancient yew tree.  Kingley Vale. South Downs. Bleeding Yew. Taxus baccata. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Medium format photography. 120mm photo.

Extended Boughs in Kingley Vale Ancient Yew Grove in the South Downs (West Sussex, England). Medium format photograph. 2022.

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Cyanotype. Beetroot. Toned cyanotype. Bleeding Yew. Animal skull. Kingley Vale. Yew trees. Camera-less photography. Art therapy. PTSD.

Animal Skull Inside Hollowed Out Heartwood of an Ancient Yew Tree at Kingley Vale in the South Downs (West Sussex, England). Digital scan of cyanotype toned with beetroot juice emulsion.

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Yew Branch and Seeds. British Woodland Trees. H.L. Edlin. Archival illustration. Botanical Illustration. Taxus baccata. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD.

Yew Branch and Seeds. c.1945. Found archival illustration. In 'British Woodland Trees' by H.L. Edlin. Reference: 118. p.126.

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Cyanotype. Beetroot. Toned cyanotype. Bleeding Yew. Tree needles. Kingley Vale. Yew trees. Camera-less photography. Art therapy. PTSD.

Yew Needles. Digital scan of cyanotype toned with beetroot juice emulsion. 2023.


‘Slips of yew, silvered in the moons eclipse' (Macbeth, Shakespeare). 

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Arboreal photography. Natural red patch on ancient bleeding yew tree at Kingley Vale in the South Downs. Plaubel Makina 67. Taxus baccata. Landscape photo. The Golden Bough. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Medium format photography. 120mm photo.

Natural Bleeding Trunk and Rhizomatic Root Growth at Kingley Vale Ancient Yew Grove in the South Downs (West Sussex, England). Medium format photograph. 2022.

‘The roots work / to disengage themselves from the cracks’ (The Trees, Collected Poems, Adrienne Rich)

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Many ancient yew trees are under threat due to various forms of woodland degradation. There are certain sites where these trees are facing difficulties due to soil compaction. However, a few organisations in the UK are attempting to protect them by constructing decking around them, so that people can view and appreciate these trees while preserving the space around their roots, allowing them to grow and thrive. Two notable examples of such initiatives are Newlands Corner (Surrey Council), and the Ankerwycke Yew (National Trust).

Furthermore, some trees, such as the Pacific yew, are endangered in part due to the taxol found in them. This compound is increasingly used as a cancer treatment. The entire tree is poisonous to humans, except for the fleshy red aril that encases the seed. As such, we must respect the livelihood of these trees and be mindful around them.

Archival Image. Perry Barr. Yew tree.  Taxus baccata. Archival photography. Bleeding Yew. Philip Whitehouse. Rocky Lane. Birmingham City Council Archives. Art therapy. PTSD.

A Girl Standing Inside the Old Yew Tree on Rocky Lane in Perry Barr. 1898. (West Midlands, England). Birmingham City Council Archives. By Photographer P. Whitehouse. Reference: WK-P3-37.

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Taxus baccata. Yew tree bark. Close up of hair and bark. Bleeding Yew.

Resting with Yew Bark at Stanmer Village (East Sussex, England). Digital photograph. 2023.

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Yew tree to side of image with gate, at the entrance of English churchyard, with historical church featured in background. Cumbria. Underbarrow. Plaubel Makina 67. Taxus baccata. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Medium format photography. 120mm photo

Yew at Underbarrow (Cumbria, England). Medium format photograph. 2023.

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Gravestones in graveyard under a yew tree at Stoke Poges. Buckinghamshire. Found archival postcard. Historical image. Archival photograph. Yew tree history. Taxus baccata.

Graveyard Yew at Stoke Poges (Buckinghamshire, England). c.1930. Found archival postcard. Published by Raphael Tuck & Sons.

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Yew trees in English churchyard with gravestones in the foreground. Ambleside, Cumbria. 120mm film. Medium format photography. Plaubel Makina 67. Taxus baccata. Operation Yewtree. Art therapy. PTSD. Medium format photography. 120mm photo.

Yew Trees in St Mary's Churchyard, Ambleside (Cumbria, England). Medium format photograph. 2023.

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Some species of fungus, such as the sulphur bracket (commonly known as chicken of the woods), can break down the insides of the trunk’s heartwood. Yew thus becomes hollow with age, much like the slow rotting of the old establishment’s core.

The tree re-cycles decaying matter into re-territorialised growths, highlighting the possibility to rethink destructive features of contemporary society.

These processes, while disintegrating internal systems, can, over time, strengthen whole structures against breakages from wind - we need to be able to sway, growing flexibly and resiliently like yew.

If you, or anyone you know, has been or is affected by sexual abuse, these organisations provide information about where you can find further support: 

Please also feel free to get in touch if you would like to discuss any aspects of this project. 

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