In 2014 I set out to photograph trees throughout the United States, not because trees are beautiful – which they often are – but because they are more than beautiful. Trees are a symbol of our relationship with both nature and culture. They give to our lives metaphors for wildness, resilience, balance, endurance, vulnerability, fragility, danger, shelter, aspiration, enormity, grace and grandeur. As I make the photographs in this series, the meaning in the image often comes from how the tree relates to its context. A tree in a cemetery, for instance, can appear somehow as a guardian or a symbol of life continuing.
This project draws upon an instinctive capacity we humans have for reading meaning into nature. We have done that with constellations in the night sky or clouds in the day, and with geological formations in the landscape. A unique example of reading meaning into trees came with the naming of the Joshua Tree found in the American southwest. The name was apparently given by Mormon settlers crossing the Mojave Desert in the 19th Century because they saw in this species of yucca (Yucca Brevigolia) the gesture of Joshua of the Hebrew Bible reaching for the heavens. They also saw a form that reminded them of a tree. And now that name has become the name for a stunning new national park in southern California, Joshua Tree National Park.
In 2011 the Getty Museum in Los Angeles included my work in an anthology of photographs of trees drawn from the museum’s collection that covers the entire history of photography. I was honored to be one of a few contemporary photographers included in this book, which is titled The Tree in Photographs (edited by Françoise Reynaud).
(The images in this series are digital photographs printed as archival ink jet prints.)
Link to Arboretum Gallery