by Kenneth Baker
In our age of mass species extinctions, we never know from where, if anywhere, consolation may come. Try looking at Beth Moon’s new book, Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time.
The Bay Area photographer has traveled the world for many years taking portraits of some of the oldest trees in existence: living things that have survived centuries, even millennia, of human history’s onslaughts, and some of the planet’s innate environmental spasms. They embody lessons in longevity and symbiosis for everyone with an interest in ecology, their startling forms delineating trials and successes of long-term adaptation to extreme conditions, competitor species, even intrusions by architecture.
The steady professionalism of Moon’s work belies the hardships and logistical care it has frequently entailed. “For example,” she writes in her introduction, “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. … In the case of the baobabs of Madagascar, I felt they presented better with full crowns of foliage, which meant traveling there during the rainy season. On the other hand, many grand oaks photographed better during the winter months. … Sleeping in the frankincense forest on Socotra, or on the salt pans of the Kalahari … was an experience unlike any other.” And not for everyone, not even every other photographer of nature.
Moon’s image of The Whittinghame Yew, a tree believed to be 1,200 years old, makes the Romantic exaggerations of William Blake’s and Samuel Palmer’s tree visions look newly literal.
By their style and subject matter, Moon’s pictures hold up disillusioning mirrors to the restlessness and rabid self-importance of our kind, but their elegance recompenses any rebuke we may feel in response.
Corden Potts Gallery in San Francisco is presenting selected platinum/palladium prints from Moon’s Ancient Trees through October.