Beth Moon – Portraits of Time: Ancient Trees

Sometimes its difficult to keep up with all the photographic newsletters that hit my inbox and they usually get a cursory once over and then get filed away in my inbox. But once in a while something will resonate with me and I will go back and search for that article. One of the recent LensCulture newsletters introduced me to Beth Moon and I was quite blown away by her Portraits of Time: Ancient Trees.

The featured series was about ancient trees – trees that had stood the test and ravages of time, some are documented to be about 4,000 years old and clearly will be around for some time to come yet if mankind doesn’t destroy the planet. Beth explains that this series is printed by using a platinum/palladium process which is hand-coated onto the print. Apparently this process will preserve the print for centuries. She uses this technique in a sense to pay homage to the survival of this ancient trees.

Coming from South Africa, my favourite images just have to be the Buffelsdrift Baobab and the Chapman’s Baobab. As children, we always used to call the baobab trees ‘the upside down trees’ because they appeared to have their roots growing above ground and somehow the leaves and branches had ended up underground. If I remember correctly, there is an old legend to that effect. The sheer majesty of these mighty trees dwarf the surrounding thorn trees present on the African plain, making them appear as weeds. They simply pale into insignificance next to these trees. The positioning of the trees in the centre of the frame and the fact that the branches extend beyond the edges of the frame emphasis the magnitude of the trees. Both trees also reach almost to to the top of the frame leaving very little breathing room in the images, but at the same time creating a sense of breath-taking awe in the viewer. I can only hope that these prints are as big as Edward Burtynsky’s are. I would want to stand at the feet of these trees and gaze up to their top most branches. One is left pondering on all the events and scenes these trees must have born witness to: the animals that have made the trees their homes over the centuries; the weather conditions the trees must have endured; the changes in the planet they have witnessed …

Beth Moon has captured the majestic elegance of all the trees in her series in a very poetic way. One might well classify this series as landscape, but I think it would fit equally well into portraiture because each tree’s unique character, idiosyncrasies, foibles and beauty are on display. From the upside down baobabs to the luxurious Bowthorpe Oak, to the UFO-like Heart of the Dragon, to the split Linton Yew, to the succulent quiver trees (another reminder of my old home country – we used to have one of these in our garden) to the quirky Ifathy Teapot and the serene Zalmon Olive trees, there is an overall underlying atmosphere of respect and dignity in all the images.

Reference List

Moon, Beth (2014). Portraits of Time: Ancient Trees [online]. LensCulture. Available from: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/beth-moon-portraits-of-time-ancient-trees-2 [Accessed 4 December, 2014]

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