“You and the tree in your backyard come from a common ancestor”… from Richard Powers’ The Overstory, spoken by Maidenhair from her perch in the canopy of the Mimas, hundreds of feet above ground and half a million days and nights old.
As an educator, artist, and photographer, I have a lifelong love of portraiture as a means for constructing memories, rendering the figure as art within the landscape. The results may be an allegorical display or a remembrance in context, but always dynamic and interactive in approach and design. I see trees as markers of the passage of time, their branches and limbs embracing, holding the memory of all who have leaned against their trunks, sheltered beneath their branches, or engaged in reverie amid the shadows of their dancing leaves.
I have come to see trees as presence and to appreciate the stewards of nature for preserving the gifts that trees offer, planting seedlings, protecting groves, conveying the stories in which these living beings figure as backdrop or presence. My own stewardship is also about planting and re-planting, a gifting of images and archives, for sharing, creating and preserving memories.
I have always been a portrait photographer. During the spring and summer of the pandemic, I have been led into deep exploration of the natural world, of local trees and now, I have integrated the figure into the frame, embraced by that environment, portraying the dyadic relationship of trees and those drawn to them.
Slated for spring or summer of 2021, I will exhibit a series of Tree Portraits at the NC Botanical Garden gallery. As in all of my projects, there will be a strong community component. Educational programs and a tree tour led by educators from the Botanical Garden staff will enhance participants’ appreciation of and interconnection with the environment and our role in its preservation. Red Nucleus, an instrumental duo will perform during our reception with wall projections of these portraits. In addition, I will be working with several, local woodcrafters to complement the local tree species with sculptural renditions, also displayed in the gallery.
While interviewing and photographing my neighbor Blythe in her backyard, I realized that creating portraits as gifts of memory for me is like sharing and replanting the family garden for her. As I became more intimate with tree lovers, I have come to question ideas that bond us as humans to the inner lives of trees- for instance, do trees have special mutations that keep them happy, intricate synapses that enable them to communicate along nerve fibers, possession of genetic elements that contribute to health and vigor?