“May you always remember the path that leads back, back to the important places.”
With his immense talent and passion for life, it’s hard to talk about Forest Woodward’s work without admiration and awe. He’s been all over the world, shooting every subject across the board. His photos have appeared in countless campaigns and his portfolio is one frame after another of awe-inspiring beauty and composition.
“Forest’s imagery is full of warmth and compassion – much like himself,” says Getty Images Senior Content Editor, Beth Wachtel. “He has the uncanny ability to capture beauty in all his subjects, no matter what the situation. There is a sense of hope, fun and passion for life throughout his work, inviting the viewer on a journey with him.”
Forest’s recent journey was the subject of an award-winning and infectiously touching film about the bond between a father and son ⎯ celebrating the people and places most important to each and every one of us. Produced by Gnarly Bay in association with American Rivers, it won Most Inspirational Film award at the 2015 5Point Film Festival and is an official selection of Mountainfilm 2015.
His father had just turned 70 years old, and Forest noticed a difference in the man who had for so long been larger than life. “I felt he stopped thinking about living,” says Forest. “He was slowing, visibly, and that scared the bleep out of him.” It scared Forest too, so he pushed it away and ignored it for a time. A few years later, when looking through a box of old family books, he found a poem that his father had written to him shortly after he was born. It was called “The Important Places,” and it changed everything.
“The Important Places”
Child of mine,
Come as you grow
In youth you will learn the secret places
The cave behind the waterfall
The arms of the oak that hold you high
The stars so near on a desert ledge
…the important places.
And as with age, you choose your own way
Among the many faces of a busy world
May you always remember the path that leads back.
…back to the important places.
⎯ Dad for Forest 1986
It all started with a slide projector. “We didn’t have a TV growing up, so we were constantly watching family slide shows,” says Forest. “We’d look at footage from trips Dad took before we were born. One of our favorites was his kayak trip down the Colorado River in 1970.”
Those photos had a profound and lasting impact on Forest. They were a part of what inspired his passion for exploring and documenting the world in front of him. “Forest is a top notch visual storyteller,” says Andreas Gebhard, Director of Content Development at Getty Images. “When you view his tremendous work, you always feel that he is truly invested in his subjects and deeply cares about the stories he’s telling. And that’s what sets great photojournalists and filmmakers apart.”
As he grew older, Forest realized how interesting his father’s story was and how that chapter of his father’s life was something he still knew very little about. It was then that he challenged his father to recreate that 1970 trip – an epic journey through the Grand Canyon. “I hoped that being back on the river would allow me to get to know him in the way he was back then, as a young man,” says Forest. “A chance to revisit an important time and place in his life and in doing so, learn something about myself.”
Taking his dad back to the Grand Canyon transported him to a time in which he was at the top of his game. And it brought out something inside him that Forest hadn’t seen in all the years of knowing him. “In those special 28 days, he remembered things about himself that had been sitting on the shelf for a long time,” says Forest. “Being down in the canyon dusted them back off. And for me, it was truly inspiring to see him still changing, evolving and growing at the age of 78.”
Forest had the idea to document the trip like the home movies he’d grown up with, but he had no idea the story would resonate the way it did. “Truthfully, I didn’t really set out to make something that would reach so many people,” says Forest. “Making the finished product so relatable took time and a truly collaborative effort by a bunch of very talented people.”
“The message that I hope is still in there for everyone is that you’re not necessarily just stuck in the familiar parent-child relationship. There’s a whole lifetime that happens after you become an adult and you learn new ways of relating to each other and earn a deeper appreciation for the concept of aging. Looking back at it, I think the time alone on the river allowed me to absorb dad’s knowledge and wisdom and hopes and dreams for us – a lot of it encompassed in the canyon. I will always mark that trip as a big step back down that path to the important places that he talked about.”
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