Why Trees?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by billy_mabrey, Nov 28, 2006.

  1. I was out shooting the other day, nice weather...a little bit humid for my
    tastes, it had just rained a bit in the morning hours. I was excited to see the
    leaves begining to cover the ground as winter slowly blows its way toward Texas
    (a huge cold front is headed hear they say). I had nothing in mind to shoot in
    particular, but I couldn't help myself from stopping before a row a knarly
    young trees, all having lost their leaves, with their bark damp and dark.
    Somehow impulse came over, I HAD to shoot them, knowing full and well i'd never
    actualy print them or do anything with the photographs that emerge on the other
    end. Why are trees so "photographical"??!!

    I recall having heard once in school that EVERYONE who "shoots photography"
    (i.e. not birthday parties), has at one point made a photograph looking up into
    a tree, and also looking down at their own feet, Usualy always within the first
    or second roll of film.

    NAaahh....I thought...but a quick look back at my first roll of film from
    highschool Photo J. and sure enough.......one right up a tree.....and another,
    my foot as I walked up some stairs. Oh yes, and how could I forget... my good
    friend the shadow as well! Take a look at your first negatives (if you have
    them still) you might be suprised.
  2. Maybe a desire to get grounded and reach for the sky?

  3. How's this a phylosophical question? According to a Wikipedia definition, philosophy is not about outlook on life. Your question is not even that, it's akin to a 5 second joke in a sitcom, "ha ha, everyone's taking pics of trees first" (pre-recorder laughter)... So what? Trees are everywhere, that's why people are taking pictures of them.
  4. Bill I think you are on to something much more than you are aware of right now. Keep shooting your trees and see what you come up with. Trees were some of the first riddles of photography I solved and it helped me become a better photographer.
  5. Most people like trees. It could be something in the genes. But whatever the basis, it's not surprising to find we take pictures of things that we like. Photography isn't a passive recording activity. We go out and choose what to capture. You might as well ask "Why naked women"?
  6. Brian wrote: It could be something in the genes.

    I once called my mother and she asked me what I had done that day. "Shot pictures of birch bark" I said, and was greeted with hoots of laughter. Then she explained that she had also been shooting birch bark that day...and that just before I called, my cousin L. (whom I hadn't seen in several decades) had called her and related how she was photographing birch bark that day.....
  7. Why are trees so "photographical"??!!

    Line, form, shape, function.

    The geometry of it all grabs the eye. They look cool. Why not? We take images of everything else under the sun so why not trees? :)

    Hope you enjoyed the tree related photographic experience and I also hope the final images brings joy to your heart when you view the final results. :)
  8. I once read a story told from the viewpoint of a tree. The world moved slowly at first, steadily speeding up. People moved by quickly at first, then they were blurs, then invisible. The story culminated with the tree speculating about what those things (buildings) were, while the unending march of development ended the tree in mid-thought. Ever since I read that story I have looked at trees differently.

    I photograph trees often, and print them regularly- I have some on my website right now. Trees pose interesting possibilities if you have the eyes to see properly. They live a completely different life than we do - they live slowly, watching, and waiting. They are more connected to the natural world than we are, and so offer many possibilities to ponder. I would suggest continuing to follow your feelings - they often reflect who we are, trying to break through the mask that we construct to fit in to the world we perceive around us. Just don't ponder on tree so long that you share Merlin's fate (and become a tree), not that that would be a bad thing...

    - R
  9. "Can someone direct me to lone oak tree on a mountain top with no distractions and perfect lighting?" Bailey Road, San Jose, California, USA :D
  10. "Shouldn't photography be easier?"

    If it were easier, we wouldn't be needed. :)
  11. "I recall having heard once in school that EVERYONE who "shoots photography" . . . has at one point made a photograph . . . looking down at their own feet"

    Not me. I knew I missed something for not having studied photography formally.
  12. As a toddler, trees were just about the biggest thing one can find - much bigger than me and even my house. When I was a lad aged 9 or so, my father who was Superintendant of schools in a small southwestern town in Iowa, sponsored or caused to be sponsored the planting of what must have been 50 or 100 trees in front of the high school on Arbor Day That was in about 1939. (Arbor Day is an American Holiday set aside for planting trees.)

    My art teacher years later taught me to see the difference in the silhouette each kind of tree makes, and how they could be recognized by that simple outline - one from the other.

    Prior to my attending McKinley High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, one of America's most noted artist taught art there, and I found I was living just half a block away from his home. Grant Wood, by this time was dead, but his art and his stylistically portrayed trees lives on in his many rural scenes of Iowa, his native land.

    Later as I took up archaeology, I found that we could actually date structures by tree ring dating. They live beyond the grave and many -- most trees outlive our little feeble 75 years or so.

    A few years ago, I had occasion to drive through Atlantic, Iowa and tall and strong grow those trees my Father planted - a Tribute to not only his legacy, but that of Morton, the man from Nebraska city who started Arbor Day.

    I'm sure Ms. Crew, my art teacher, might appreciate that I still think of her and her class on tree shape after sixty-some years.

    I feel great pride having attended Grant Woods's McKinley High School. I learned that a hand carved oak bench sitting just outside the principal's office where offenders of some rule or another were directed to sit and await their punishment on that hard surface. (The bench is now in a museum, but I can tell my grand children of the two times I was "privileged" to occupy it.)and just recently I read a book about Grant Wood and his most notable work, American Gothic.

    In my later years, I find more than beauty in the forests. I find remnents of previous occupation, such as wooden beams from burned out homes, and being able to date structures through either C-14 dating or tree ring counts and finding structures for storage or burials built into the trees.

    A lot can be said for trees. As I muse over these words, a winter storm is changing their appearance and I wish my back was able to go out to shoot some tree pictures in the freshness of this new snow.
  13. I find trees fascinating, both individually and en masse. Yes, I have taken a photograph looking up into a tree (several, in fact) but never one of my feet. I spent almost four years photographing one particular tree until I had the 'definitive' shot. I have photographed a tree which is said to be 850 years old. That means it sprang from a seed when Henry II, the first Plantagenet king, was ruling England. That makes me, with an expected lifespan of three score years and ten, feel rather transient.
  14. Trees stay still enough to allow for intense looking and they are complex enough to yield a lifetime's store of metaphors.
  15. I think trees are a)beautiful and b)laden with metaphor. strength in their roots, usually scarred but unswayed by injury, branches splayed giving endless combinations of climbing routes etc etc etc. I guess thats why people photograph them so much - they mean something to everyone. Oh, and they're everywhere.

    And BTW the only time I can remember photographing my feet was when I was trying to really quickly snap an enormous rat that crossed the footpath in front of me while I was in New York City. I missed the rat, but I got an odd shot of my foot.
  16. Trees are very graphic in nature and often make for attractive images that most people can relate to. Also they don't move or try to attack you when you photograph them as happens when you photograph people.
  17. Billy >>>"Why are trees so "photographical"
    Only some trees are aesthetic enough to get our attention just like plants. From vast choices our visual senses processed further by our minds can select what looks pleasantly better regardless of subject. And we humans enjoy reveling in beauty. Trees are more than just another natural landform feature because they are often large, project significantly up into the sky, and sometimes have interesting form and color. Features that can readily be put to use by photographers. I have long been seeking wonderful trees out in the natural world and have managed to capture a few incredible ones while still am working on quite a few more I know about.
  18. Wow! Randall Ellis -
    that sounds like a great story to read!
    I saw a photographers work who uses utterly terribly long exposures, some as short as a few days to as long as 10 years! Some are now set and exposing for a century I belive. Some predecessor will finish those photograph of course. He has cameras exposing all over manhattan. One was pointed at the MoMA as they reconstructed it. Another still exposing for a few more years was pointed at the world trade center prior to 9/11. Not even buildings are certian to be permanent in such long exposures. Years worth of the sun blazes by in streaks of white on the sky, and of course...the trees some of which obviously grew during exposure.
    They are bizzare images of a world that only a tree might be sensible to.

    This is the best image I could find: Michael Wesely
    For more it looks like you'll have to buy his book. Maybe I'll ask Santa...
  19. Excellent question Billy. Not only do beginners shot trees for the shape, texture, tonal range, colors, light, etc; they are the perfect (model) in every way. And they never get old, you will end up looking at trees differently your life, and photographing them, with your last roll of film, er., battery charge.
  20. Well, late in coming, but here is my philosophical answer.

    You can sort of equate trees to people. Some of them are young and waife like. Others are stout and squat or tall and massive. Some are bent over and gnarled. Some have massive spreads of leaves and others show only a single leaf.

    In a lot of ways trees can be easily anthropomorphasised (okay, what would the term be for trees? Arbopomorphasised?). It is fairly easy to see a gnarled bristle cone pine and see an 85 year old man hunched with long life and weathering showing to the world how he has survived it and maybe even been the better for it. You can look at a giant willow tree in winter with it bare of leaves and see a large woman, supple in her good food and cheer, yet some how delicate for all of that. Or look at a small oak sapling just starting to emerge from the ground and see a delicate baby just starting to experience life and be able to see what a large person that baby is going to grow up to be when viewed next to its progenitor.

    Those are my philosophical thoughts on the matter.

    My more practical thoughts on the matter of photographing trees are that there are a whole bunch of them, everyone can recognize one for what it is, and they tend to be pretty big.
  21. Why do we need a reason? Lee Friedlander's last two books are on trees as nominal subject: Apples and Olives and Cherry Blossom Time in Japan.

  22. As a nimble child i used to scramble as high up a tree as i could get and then slowly clamber down to the ground again, when i was old enough have my own camera i to took photos of trees, and i think a few photos of my feet were due to accidental clicking on my part ha ha. Trees are are truely inspiring and perhaps we instincively shoot images near, including and of trees because we are drawn to their beauty within the world in which we inhabit?

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