As a child, growing up in Philadelphia, we had a park nearby but we kids played in the street anyway. First down is that red car. So trees remained exotic during my childhood and, for some reason, I was fascinated by them. They seemed like ancient spirits trapped in bark.
Since moving from the city to the suburbs I’ve had allergies. My doctor pricked me with pins and then told me the things I was allergic to, which included trees. I thought I should have been allergic to peanut butter (I wasn’t), something I could safely remove from my diet with fringe benefits, not something I love, like trees.
My interest in trees has carried over to photography. I like taking pictures of trees although they can be deceptively difficult to photograph. Trees are usually a part of the landscape in photography, an element with which to add color or scale. But I like making them the subject by taking what I think of as portraits of them.
Trees seem to have a personality. In late fall, as the branches become bare, a tree has gesture and this seems to express that personality.
Trees have been a fundamental part of human history. They have been our source of fuel and energy, our shelter and the material from which we created our homes, and a fundamental resource we have used for goods. They put syrup on our pancakes, rubber on our tires, tops on our tables, resonance and timbre in our musical instruments. And, of course, the paper we use to print books, our time capsules that store our thoughts and images across generations.
Our relationship with trees has an ancient history. Some say that feeling you have when you wake yourself up in fear that you are falling is a genetic leftover from our prehuman history when we slept in trees and needed to be careful not to plunge to the forest floor in the middle of the night.
Recently, my wife and I needed to remove a Ginko tree from our property. In fall, its leaves would turn a vibrant yellow. It was a beautiful tree. But it was planted, probably by a bird, in the very unfortunate position of directly atop our sewer line.
I don’t have a good photo of this tree. I took some photos of it leaves, in an homage to Irving Penn, so that will have to do. At the moment the front of the house is bereft of lawn and it is as if it is missing a limb: the tree was visually its right hand. At the moment, home doesn’t look the same. Although my allergist would have approved of its removal, I will miss that tree.
PS: there is a wonderful book by Mitch Epstein called New York Arbor. It scooped any notion I might have about a book of tree portraits but I still think it is excellent.
Also, the practice of carving names into a tree has a kind of primordial grace to it that I think is touching and is the subject of this video I shot: