One book that I have found very useful in my search for photographers of trees is a small book of photos taken by a number of Magnum photographers such as Bruce Davidson and Martine Franck as well as others who are less well known to me. The book is just called ‘Trees’ and I found it in a second-hand bookshop in Hay on Wye. Many of them I can appreciate; scrubby woodland, textured bark, interesting roots, reflections of trees on buildings, or water, or just the ground. There are others that challenge me more though, particularly when I think about the characteristics I’m meant to be looking for in a good photo. One photographer whose work I struggled with is Iranian photographer, Abbas. I appreciate that he is best known as a photo journalist so by definition, there will be a lot going on in his photos but those depicted in this book, were I felt, too busy and I was left wondering where to look. In two of Abbas’s images in particular; Abbas (1984) San Agustin Oapan, Guerrero State, Mexico and Abbas (1989) Poplar trees in Kashgar , along the Silk Route, Xinjiang province, the composition seems, in my opinion, all over the place with some of the content partly in and partly out of the frame and I couldn’t really see what he was trying to achieve.
There’s another very strange photo by Elliott Erwitt (1969) Tuileries @Garden, Paris, with a tree right in the middle of the frame and a woman sitting on a bench behind the tree so that you can see her head and body at one side of the tree and her leg sticking out at the other, I couldn’t see what that was all about until I researched Erwitt further on the Magnum website and found that the majority of his work has an element of humour to it. His quote at the start of his profile on the Magnum website is “
It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception. You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy. ” Erwitt, E. http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_9_VForm&ERID=24KL53Z1OG [accessed 3 May 13]
There are of course many much more images in this book which I do find inspiring or at least get me wondering about the circumstances, many of which include people. Riboud M (1969) Kapok tree in Angor, Cambodia, shows a huge tree with distorted roots in the background and a small boy in the foreground looking upwards. I find myself wondering what the boy is doing, is this maybe where he lives? And Smith, W E. (1946) A walk in Paradise park, the Smith children, shows two small children walking away from the photographer into a light area, you can see where they have come from and wonder where it is they are going, this is probably my favourite from the whole book.
I wonder if some of the images included in this book do the photographers justice, such as the Abbas and Elliott Erwitt images already mentioned, but maybe that is the point, to find out what these people and their work is all about, you need to research them further. I have certainly found the Magnum website to be a really useful resource when it comes to black and white imagery and one thing I have taken away from this little book though are some of the alternative viewpoints that the photographers have used. There are very few traditional shots of trees, this is something that I need to think about for my assignment.
Dubost, Jean-Claude (Ed) (1998) Trees, Magnum Photos