Arboretum Virtualis | Introduction

Black and white tree photography

Tree Climber

Some of my happiest times have been hiking the peripheral forests of Prince George, British Columbia in my adolescence. One of the most admired natural aspects of BC are its snow-peaked mountains but you can’t see those when you live in the center of that Canadian province. For me, the next most spectacular feature of BC is its trees, and the city of Prince George has long staked claim to the title “Spruce Capital of the World”.

I’m not just hooked on spruce; however, or even just BC’s trees. Without being an environmentalist, naturalist, arborist or anything related I’ve been fascinated with trees in general for all of my existence.

Long before I had ever heard of Clyde Butcher, I had a thought to produce a collection of tree landscapes. I wanted to make images of trees that stood out in my mind as having remarkable character, almost as though each were sentient. Like any artist, although I knew that I would enjoy the endeavour, I wasn’t sure that anyone else would actually care about my pictures of trees. I wasn’t convinced that I had a hope of using such images to remind people of the importance of trees in our lives without being preachy, and goodness gracious, who hasn’t already taken on a tree photography project? Seeing the overwhelmingly positive response to Butcher’s tree dominated landscapes of the Florida Everglades, however, I was motivated to press on.

That’s when I discovered my next paralyzing fear. For years I was heavily concerned that I would be seen as a Butcher copycat, and I really didn’t think that I could source a landscape that was more than or even equally as interesting as Florida’s to shoot, with all of its remarkable buttress root trees. I am a science fiction illustrator, however, and it was my limited amateur studies in botany and horticulture for my effort to dream up astrobiological flora for a fictitious world that opened my eyes to the possibilities of seeing the trees of Earth differently to how I love seeing them in Clyde Butcher’s pictures. My vision of tree portraits was becoming more refined, and I finally began my artistic arboreal photography experiments in January of 2008.

I very much enjoy photographing the great outdoors but I have a particular interest in focusing on nature’s profound importance on urban living. So, most of these tree landscapes and portraits deliberately have subtle indications of the presence of people. I aim to make a classy and unique series that can impact others with a new found and lasting respect for our planet.

Pieces in this series so far include:

19 thoughts on “Arboretum Virtualis | Introduction

  1. nature’s profound importance on urban living” I wish more people cared more about this exact thing, it is so terribly important, just as is our urban lifestyles influence on nature

    • It is. I love the country, and I love the city. As much as I appreciate living in the city, I must remain aware of how it jeopardizes the natural environment. If the country goes, so does the city, and everything that both have to offer for our very survival as a species.

      No, the environmental impact problem is not an easy fix but we must get on with fixing and maintaining it, nevertheless.

    • Yes, and “Tree Climber” is a part of my other photography project Hammer Home; a story about living in a city (you may have already seen the shot there).

      The urban world, and that of the natural environment always collide. Both impact our lives so strongly, that this picture seemed appropriate for the intro.

    • It’s such a dichotomy. We want to keep the trees around for their beauty, and quite literally so that we can exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen in order to breathe. We also; however, need to chop them down for the lumber they produce. We need to make paper for record keeping purposes. Maybe for making fine art photographic prints of people we’ve met or have loved for a long time, or even of trees! We even need to harvest certain trees in whole or in part for their medicinal benefits.

      It’s like the crude oil dilemma, the substitutions that exist have so far proven inadequate for one reason or another. What do we do?

  2. Interesting passion you have there. Most trees take ages and ages to grow. I think what a lot of us forget when we look at trees is that trees, especially the tall variety with massive thick barks, are much, much older than us and have weathered a lot in their lifespan. This I find fascinating. As a kid, I was fascinated with leaves, though. Loved pressing them in scrapbooks.

    “…nature’s profound importance on urban living”. As much as I love the city and am a city slicker, I do like greenery here and there lining the urban streets. Once “fully grown” or built, buildings tend to maintain the same facade and lose a bit of colour. But with nature and trees, they tend to change their colours each season. It’s almost like watching magic.

    • As a kid in Prince George, I had a friend whose father worked for the local pulp and paper giant. He also grew a small tree in the front yard of their home. It was an immature deciduous sapling of some kind — I don’t remember what it was, and very skinny.

      My friend liked knives and could be reckless. He absolutely loved the film Rambo starring Sylvester Stallone, and in trying to impress me with his own combat knife sharpening and handling skills, he took to whittling on the young family tree that his dad had been nurturing for so long. I tell you, his father saw through the window and charged outside ready to trash his son’s behind big time.

      The man yelled how it took years to grow that little tree, only for it to be destroyed in a couple minutes with a so called Rambo knife. I share your fascination with the significance of time, the age of trees and value of elderly life forms.

      I also like how you associate the cycles of urban canopies with magic. It really is special, and helps to keep cities fresh, interesting and attractive to both citizens and tourists. Sprawling metropolises that inadequately invest in their urban canopies really are ignoring a vital municipal improvement strategy that can solve many adverse situations.

      • That poor tree. Whittled down in a matter of seconds. It’s sort of the same with chopping down bigger trees. Think deforestation to make way for new buildings.

        Nature seems to change fast before our eyes, faster than we can keep up. Same with urbananised communities these days. It’s skyscraper after skyscraper going up…people moving in and out. Movement all round. But both canopies are indeed magical, as always.

    • Likewise. and so far most of the shots in this series are of trees in urban areas although it might not always be readily noticeable. I think it’s an important perspective.

  3. I like your urban arboretum, Allan. Landscapes with human presence – just what I expected to see from you. It feels great to be up in a tree top looking down on people and cars – it has been decades since I climbed one.

  4. I’ll never forget how sad I was, the tears, when we had an old faithful tree friend cut down in the back garden of my childhood home. The cruelty! Remember how “big” trees were when we were so little? A gorgeous shot Allan, the beautiful light and the young boy in his kingdom!

    • Yes, kingdom! As children, we climb up there and instantly become king or queen of all we survey.

      Certainly a great loss when a tree falls before its time.

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