In northwestern Poland, close to the village Nowe Czarnowo, lies the Krazywy Las-forest, which roughly translates to "The Crooked Forest." Everywhere you look you see trees which, as soon as the appear from the ground, take an abrupt horizontal curve, always pointing to the north, to turn upwards again after a meter of two. No one knows exactly why the trees grew the way they did, and with that uncertainty all the more theories have arisen, varying from rational to spiritual ones, from tales about Nazis to tales about witches. This month the German landscape photographer Kilian Schönberger drove to Poland to captue the mysterious forest in his aptly-named photo series The Crooked Forest.
“As a photographer I’m always searching for ideal conditions, and fog is my favorite stylistic device,” he tells me via email. “I was reading on the internet on eerie places when I came across the story of the forest. When I heard the weather conditions would be perfect awhile later I instinctively grabbed the car and started the 400-mile journey from Germany to Poland. Multiple cups of coffee, energy drinks, no time for sleep. When I arrived in the early morning I immediately started photographing.”
“The mist gives the already macabre forest an eerie, almost horrorlike quality, one that is only fed by its own myth. The trees were planted during the start of the World War II by the German army, but it’s not clear whether they are the ones responsible for the unusual growth of the trees. “The most likely explanation is that the trees were bent deliberately, in order to make the curved wood usable for building ships, rocking chairs, canes, and so on. Other people believe the growth might be a result of the war itself, since the forest was the ground for many battles between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army. Still others point to the influence of a snowstorm, which might have bent the young trees under a heavy layer of snow.”
And then there’s the more spiritual explanation. “There are some obscure theories talking about witchcraft and energy fields,” says Schönberger. “It’s all because we never found the final answer. The history of the forest was lost with the retreating German army.”
Schönberger tried to capture this ambiguous background and history in his photos. He used wide-angle-lenses to underline the grandeur of the place, while the mist made the forest appear more minimalistic, more desolate. “I wanted the series to have this kind of reduced aesthetic, no vibrant colors, no sunrays and no sun in general. The trees should be the main actors—a portrait of a strange part of reality. I had Salvador Dalí in mind when taking these pictures.”
Schönberger’s vision of the world is different to most of his fellow colleagues since he was born color blind, making it difficult for him to distinguish between low saturated parts of colors such as blue and purple, red and green, and grey and magenta. “My relationship to colors has always been special. When I publish photos I always have to ask someone to check them, because otherwise there’s a chance I’ve overlooked something: the sky would be green, for instance, of the fog would be magenta. That is why I’m more a fan of structures, I guess, because I can understand those even without their color.”
When I ask him if he believes in the ghost stories surrounding the forest, he answers: “In the past, people had a tendency to explain strange phenomena with myths and legends. Today people do the same with wild theories online about this relatively young forest. That is the idea I wanted to capture in my photographs, the idea of a modern natural legend, surrounded by fog and fables. But it is kinda scary to walk there in reality, too, I must admit.”
Click here to check out Kilian Schönberger's website.
A version of this article originally appeared on The Creators Project Netherlands.