Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Trees. A Cemetery.

My Trees multimedia installation is about dormancy, death and decay. What better place to visit than a cemetery? 

Today I have chosen to walk in a westerly direction from the house. Every one of my Trees photographic excursions until now has been east of my street. 

As I step out onto the porch, the sharp, acrid odor of Carnivora Mephitidae assails my nostrils. I gasp with delight. This awful skunk stench may be a shout of "I'M WALKIN' HERE" by some feisty four-footed local denizen. Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy couldn't have said it any better. 

There happens to be a cemetery in the neighborhood. The West Parish Burying Ground, seen here in the aptly titled "PlaQue" is about 220 years old.

That would make the lonely birch tree there, shown in "MirrorImage," a very young resident, indeed. I was struck by the almost mirror image of the "twin" trees behind the birch. Really, I don't make any of this stuff up. I take care not to move, reposition or set up anything to make the picture "better." I just create portraits of what's there when I arrive on the scene. 

The interplay of light and dark on this gray, about-to-snowstorm morning was perfect for imaging the luminance contrast between the birch and the trees behind it.

F11. F9.5. F6.7...neutral density...ISO...wide angle...telephoto...all these technical considerations, so important to me when I was a young photographer, drain away and become automatic as I just try to capture the subtly awesome song of the air, moisture, light and dense growth scratched against the vault of sky above me. All my efforts seem tone deaf before this music of nature.

There are relatively few birch trees in the area. Does a birch tree make you think of native americans and birch bark canoes? I wonder if birches get sick of that stereotype. 

After the cemetery, I trudge on, weighted down by my enormous tripod, a high-definition filmmaker's camera, the DSLR, coat, sweater, two shirts, long johns, scarf, gloves, headphones, spare batteries...and my expectations.

I am trying to find a particular place. It is the small park, hidden in the grid of local streets, where I taught my daughter how to ride a bike over ten years ago. 

The memory of her pigtail flying and her triumphant shout as I let go of the bike for the first time makes my heart swell.

I'm taking her to look at colleges next month, and I realize with a start that every site where I have photographed trees for this series is a place I used to take her when she was in a backpack, then in a stroller, then on foot, then on her bike. So, I'm mapping the past.

But you can't go back. I finally reach Wellington Park, but it is so well maintained that there are no dead trees there I want to photograph. My streak has been broken. Sorrowfully, I turn to go home. 

As I return, I see many fabulous dead and decaying specimens in people's back yards. It takes all the willpower I can muster not to raise my DSLR and image them. But according to the code I've set up for this project, it's cheating to make portraits in back yards, even with a long lens from the sidewalk. That's private space, pardner. 

Mercifully, however, I am thrown a metaphorical bone. I turn a corner and the image of   SibLings presents itself. I see them as big brother in the foreground and little brother in the background. The bark pattern on these trees takes my breath away, as does their massive majesty. Their quiet dignity dwarves the postwar houses around them.  

My late older brother, Pedro, used to take me on walks around our neighborhood when I was little. He'd point out birds, plants, stars, turtles, frogs, fish and everything else natural. So, that's Pedro in the foreground and me in the background. Except Pedro's in the ground, with our Mother. And I'm still here, with my daughter. ###

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