Trees Speak

A tree in spite of the forest

They say you cannot see the forest for the trees, but I often find it frustrating that I cannot appreciate a solitary tree for the forest. Like all environments of collections of similar items, the influence of one upon the others can be important, but I like to appreciate the growth of an individual…especially in trees.

While wandering through the Getty Center this week, I came across this exhibit on trees. Because of my love of trees, I would have looked at it regardless, but this photo (Myoung Ho Lee, South Korean; “Tree #3,” negative 2006, print 2009) stopped me, elicited a laugh of delight and then pulled me closer like a lover for a kiss.

How long did it take to discover the best materials to use for such an image…to construct it…to erect it. Did any other elements play into the creation of this image…such as wind or rain or snow…how long did it take to actually achieve this one photo that caused such a strong reaction in me? To be able to isolate just one tree in order to appreciate all the lines and the flow and the uniqueness of it is a dream I often have and here it was in front of me. Brilliant and stunning. Definitely a photo I would love to hang in my house.

I pondered if I should continue looking at other photos because I doubted any would elicit such a response from me, but I am a lover of tree architecture and the wisdom they seem to share through their understated existence, so I entered the gallery.

Creative illusion

Upon entering the gallery, my eye instantly went to this photograph and then to another. I disciplined myself and forced my eyes to consider all the ones in between before I allowed the feast of this one. I honestly don’t know why I do that. Why can’t I just go to the ones that instantly catch my eye? I’m so distracted by what I want to see, I never fully appreciate anything else until I’m sated with those that draw me to them first.

This photo (Henri Cartier-Bresson, French, 1908-2004; Brie, France, May-June 1968) first showed me the tunnel because of the barren landscape all around it. Questions fell over themselves in a cascade of thoughts. Why was this avenue created? Was there a series of ever ponderous committees debating its necessity or virtues, or did some wealthy rogue sneak out at night and begin planting trees? Why do the trees stop where they do? Was there a designated beginning and ending point? Was it fulfilled or completed?

Only at this point did I recognize the optical illusion of the single tree at the front of the tunnel. I chuckled, realizing again that I didn’t see the forest for the trees…or rather the larger tree for the many that created it. In that moment I realized the many moments that flash by my daily life without consideration and I wondered how much of my life I was missing. I expressed gratitude for the artist’s time and eye to stop and take such a “boring” picture and for the lessons I am blessed with seeing.

Twirly Winter

This is the other photograph that caught my attention (Andre Kertesz,
American; “Washington Square, Winter” 1954). At first I thought it was a cartoon reminiscent of Dr. Seuss or the Berenstain Bears with the characters of the trees, the curving path in the center and the whimsical lamp posts that immediately brought Mr. Tumnus to mind. Then I realized it was a photograph of a real place in winter and I giggled with delight. I instantly thought of those mornings in graduate school when I would wake up to a magic blanket of white that transformed my familiar world into a fairyland adventure. Familiar places and buildings and spaces and shapes suddenly had new textures and details previously unseen and I relished in seeing the familiar in new ways.

Why had I giggled? What caused my impulse to run and play? I gradually realized it was because of all the curved lines in the composition. I wanted to be one of the people in the photograph and run and slide around the corners…either on my feet or on a sled…and see how far I could go before crashing into the bank of snow. Then I thought I’d probably make a ramp at the spot I crashed most so I could get some air and make a more spectacular landing. I thought of Snoopy and Lucy and the Peanuts gang ice skating, of roller skating as a child and I thought of Temple Grandin‘s research and designs and I wondered if curves did more than just calm cattle…maybe they also inspire play in humans.


1 Comment

  1. Saturday, June 18th, 2011 at 9:03 pm

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