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American photography: Mitch Epstein « Previous | |Next »
April 28, 2013

After five years of photographing the manifestations of energy production and consumption across the United States Mitch Epstein has been photographing trees around New York City using an 8-by-10 field camera and black-and-white sheet film.

EpsteinMTrees1.jpg Mitch Epstein, American Elm, Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn 2012, Gelatin silver print, selenium toned

The resulting photographs invert people’s usual view of their city: trees no longer function as background or landscape, but, instead, become the focus of the image, dominating the human life and architecture around them. He refers to the pitfalls of the picturesque by which he means that he didn’t want the color to be a distraction to what was intrinsic to the picture:

I realized there was a lot about the contemporary urban landscape that was colored that was going to become a distraction. Whether it was the yellow streetlights, the cross lights at the intersections, or the color of the red fire hydrant. There was also the potential to fall prey to the sameness of the color, especially in the summer season, when yes, there are varieties of green but the green is what is prevailing. Somehow black and white doesn’t prevail as a palette the same way color does.

He says that before bringing the 8-by-10 camera, I photographed the tree several times with a little digital camera. I spent time with the tree. It was January, and I first had to educate myself as to when the light would be at a favorable vantage point in the sky.

EpsteinMtree2.jpg Mitch Epstein, White Oak, Raoul Wallenberg Forest, Bronx 2011, Gelatin silver print, selenium toned

In this interview Epstein says of the tree project:

With the tree pictures, there is a clear inversion of roles. In American Power, trees support — as a foil or counterpoint – the built environment, which is center stage, whereas in this current work, the architecture, environs and people recede into the background; the trees take center stage.

Though he shot in black and white to keep the viewer’s focus on the trees more than the surrounding human world (color can distract) he wanted to photograph these trees in the context of the contemporary landscape. The aim was to draw a broad portrait of the city through some of its extraordinary and idiosyncratic trees.

He adds that photography can capitalize on bring together what might initially seem like unrelated events or elements and link them in a way that can find new meaning through their juxtaposition. That’s part of what photography has the ability to do well.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:54 PM |