My tree for Christmas 2016
Seeing something is a dynamic process: it is all about interpretations. We can agree about what is in front of us in a casual conversation. However, we might have a different recollection of what we saw, let’s say, 10 years later. We both might have valid and yet individual reasons to do so.
This change of perception is intensely relevant in the visual arts profession. After all, the effective propagation of ideas may literally depend on being on the same page with an audience. It becomes complicated when both sides are separated by time and space. It is also relevant to those of us who attempt to communicate something, for example by posting an image on Facebook and not regretting it later.
Any form of effective communication is medium specific. I would rather leave details about these specifics to professionals working with each medium of visual expression. My medium is photography and I’ve used it in various applications for more than four decades. If I can contribute something from this perspective, it would be to illustrate the making of a photograph for my Christmas dining room - which might provide insight to anyone who uses a camera. Before I move further I need to make a few clarifications:
Seeing is, essentially, the process of our brain interpreting light registered by our eyes.
All cameras, like our eyes, register the light reflected from physical objects in our world.
The medium of photography is therefore the reality, the state of things as they actually exist.
The image we choose to show a viewer reflects our perceptual experience of this reality.
The image that reflects reality as our eyes would see it is a photograph . If it does not, for the sake of clarity, it is an image made with a photography base medium .
The idea of my “oak tree” image came to me after reading a memoir of Elizabeth Simcoe, the wife of the first Lt. Governor of Upper Canada and also an artist herself. In her notes she remarked about magnificent old oak groves on the shore of Lake Ontario while visiting first 18-th century settlers in the current Burlington/Hamilton area. Since then, I started mapping-out in my memory the locations of individual oak specimens, as the prospect of finding a living old grove was remote. If anywhere, the remains of these groves can be found in the structural timber used in many old homes and buildings still standing in the area where I live. That is where my connection with this subject initially came from.
In 2007 I settled my attention on one particular oak tree standing on the side of a country road opposite a Christian Reformed school. That was when and where I created Winter Oak #1.
I used the existing foggy winter conditions to elevate the sense of space this tree occupied in an empty farmland. On a larger scale the photograph revealed details of branches encrusted with ice, in my attempt to show the endurance of this specimen. I chose an angle to accentuate the slight tilt of the tree, as a hint of vulnerability. I was happy with the outcome and I finished a larger print to hang in my dining room for Christmas 2008. It didn’t stand my test of time. Why?
The development of the “oak tree” project coincided at that time with a similar path of projects about beech trees, white pines, and apple trees that were incubating in my mind for different reasons. They all accelerated my interest in a broader knowledge about trees: how they communicate underground, share common resources, establish warning systems, nurse younger generations, all through a complex symbiotic relationship with myriad other living organisms out of sight and below the ground. As I progressed, my views also evolved. In the following years since Winter Oak #1, I visited its site on many occasions collecting some working photo-sketches.
Consequently, eight years after I made Winter Oak #1 I was ready to make the new version.
The physicality of the tree’s location and winter conditions hasn’t changed. What did change was the way I was looking at it. Above all I saw bold resilience supported by millions of years of evolutionary codes, out there, every day, facing new generations of young students’ eyes just across the road. Like a ghost.
I finished framing the photograph just in time to hang in my dining room for Christmas 2016.
Have a Happy New Year