ANCIENT TREES: Portraits of Time
By Beth Moon

Saturday 13 July – Sunday 1 September
PREVIEW: Friday 12 July, free event,  RSVP
ARTISTS TALK: Friday 30 August, 6:30pm  Bookings

 

We are delighted to host the first UK presentation of American photographer Beth Moon who, for over a decade, has been documenting the biggest, oldest and rarest trees in the world in her exhibition Ancient Trees: A Portrait of Time. This journey has taken her to desolate mountainsides, private estates and protected lands, where she has made portraits of some of nature’s most majestic giant. Her work highlights the delicate duality of their existence— as both powerful but also vulnerable to environmental elements and human intervention.

“Time is the shape of an old oak as the winds caress and sculpt the bark, defining hardship and beauty. Time is the trunk that splits apart in great age to accommodate the tempest. Evidence of time is revealed in the furrowed bark of an ancient tree, gnarled, crooked and beautiful.

Portraits of Change.
Portraits of Survival.
Portraits of Time.

I’d like to keep a clear picture, so if a tree is destroyed by storm, disease, greed, or lack of concern, I will have a record of its power and beauty for those who were not able to make the journey. I photograph these trees because I know words alone are not enough, and I want their stories to live on. I photograph these trees because they may not be here tomorrow.

I began this project while living in England, a country with an affinity for all things arboreal. From the first moment I saw an ancient yew, a love affair ensued. The United Kingdom has a high concentration of old trees, so it seems I was in the right place to start. My children were young at the time, and they often accompanied me on my travels, happy for the chance to explore new places.

Early in the project, I photographed the massive Bowthorpe oak, one of the greatest British oaks. Its full crown of leafy green foliage was quite a sight to behold. Just six months later, part of the crown was lost when a violent storm tore a major limb to the ground, causing other branches to collapse into the tree’s hollow center.

Elsewhere I found ancient relics living in a state of neglect or others destined for sacrifice by the logger’s chainsaw. These trees, taller than most buildings and older than many of our monuments, were often taken for granted. Equally disturbing is the threat of extinction many tree species are facing. For these reasons, I continued my work with a greater sense of purpose and urgency.

Why do we need old trees? Beyond the sublime, old trees are biologically critical. They contain superior genes that have enabled them to survive through the ages, resistant to disease and other uncertainties. Their genetic heritage is invaluable for future research and reforestation. Old trees store a significant amount of carbon above and below the ground. They serve as a reservoir for species such as lichen, and contain rich communities of plants, animals, and insects that depend on this unique habitat created only by the passage of time. The disappearance of old-growth forests may be one of the most serious environmental issues today. It is time to embrace a larger view of nature as a network of interwoven relationships.

Moving to the west coast of America allowed me the opportunity to explore the ancient bristlecone pines and giant sequoias of California. Print sales allowed further development of my work and trips to other continents. Planning was extensive. Some places could only be visited at certain times of the year. For example, the Yemeni island of Socotra, home to the remarkable dragon’s blood trees, is inaccessible for many months at a time due to strong monsoon winds. I also carefully considered the best season to photograph each particular tree. In the case of the baobabs of Madagascar, I felt they presented better with full crowns of foliage, which meant travelling there during the rainy season. On the other hand, many grand oaks photographed better during the winter months, when they were bare of leaves, allowing their wildly twisted branches and full trunks to be seen clearly.

In some countries, I was able to camp right under the trees I photographed, allowing me to take advantage of the last light of the day and the first rays of morning sun. Sleeping in the frankincense forest on Socotra, or in the saltpans of the Kalahari under giant baobab trees, was an experience unlike any other. I have never felt more vibrant and alive than on these occasions, my senses awakening to a landscape filled with birdsong and the light of stars.

Many of the trees I photographed would not be chosen by botanists as the best example of their species; I chose trees that are unique in their exceptional size, incredible age, heredity, or folklore. Or sometimes it was an unconventional beauty that I found irresistible. Many of them had overcome obstacles in their effort to survive, their very forms a testament to their resilience. All of them remarkable.

Few of these trees have signposts, and many have survived because they are out of reach of civilisation, on mountainsides, private estates, remote islands, or protected land. Certain species exist only in a few isolated parts of the world. Wherever possible, I have listed the age of each tree, but this can be hard to determine accurately. Counting rings and carbon dating damages the trunk, and many old trees hollow out or appear to stop growing at certain stages. Moreover, tree growth often slows over time. Experts now agree that the best results are obtained by comparing the measurements of living trees to other examples of the same species that have been cut down already.

I have remained loyal to my Pentax 6.7 film camera, using it for the majority of my shots. The many steps involved in creating the final print are just as important to me as capturing the image. The process I use for exhibition prints is platinum/palladium printing. By using the longest-lasting photographic process, I hope to speak about survival—not only of man and nature, but of photography as well. For each print, I mix a tincture that I hand-paint onto heavy watercolor paper and expose to light. The metals are actually embedded into the fiber of the paper. A platinum print can last for centuries, drawing on the common theme of time and continuance, pairing photographic subject and process.

As I complete my work I cherish many fond memories. I have since taken other photographs that I am happy with, but these trees hold a very special place in my heart, as they are the sole reason I began to work with a camera in 1999. They were the seeds planted in me, the inspiration that took root and grew.” Beth Moon

Biography


 

The American-born photographer Beth Moon has gained international recognition for her large-scale, richly toned platinum prints which are held in public and private collections such as The Museum of Fine Art Houston, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Museum of Photographic Arts San Diego and the Fox Talbot Museum (UK), and The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Bolzano, Italy.  Her work has appeared in more than sixty solo and group exhibitions in the United States, Italy, England, France, Israel, Brazil, Dubai, Singapore, and Canada, receiving widespread critical acclaim.

Moon was born in the U. S. and studied fine art at the University of Wisconsin. Classes in painting, life drawing, sculpture, and design would set the groundwork for her work in photography, which was to come years later.

She currently lives on the east coast outside of New York City.

Artworks