Art Of The Tree

Ancient trees affected by cosmic rays are the subject of The “Diamond Nights” project by San Francisco-based photographer Beth Moon.  Moon has spent over a decade photographing the world’s oldest trees in daylight, now she has returned to capture these majestic trees at night. Most locations were truly wild and remote, far from civilization and light pollution in the southern hemisphere of Africa in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Mighty and eccentric Baobabs and surreal Quiver trees are featured in this work, titled after constellations named by the ancient Greeks and Romans.


Beth Moon, From the Diamond Nights Series, Archival Pigment Prints, © and Courtesy Beth Moon, 2014.

“Our relationship to the wild has always played an important role in my work. This series was inspired by two fascinating, scientific studies that connect tree growth with celestial movement and astral cycles,” explains Moon. The first study concluded that cosmic radiation impacts tree growth even more than annual temperature or rainfall, the second found that tree buds change size and shape directly correlating to the moon and planets.


Beth Moon, From the Diamond Nights Series, Archival Pigment Prints, © and Courtesy Beth Moon, 2014.

For her Diamond Nights project, a guide lead Moon across unmarked terrain to each location during the day, seeking out isolated areas where there was not a single soul for miles around. Once she found her subject, she marked the location with a collection of small rocks so that she would be able to find the right spot again using only a flashlight when she returned at night. The majority of these photographs were created during moonless nights, shot with a wide-angle lens and ISO of 3200~6400.


Beth Moon, From the Diamond Nights Series, Archival Pigment Prints, © and Courtesy Beth Moon, 2014.

The Milky Way, a ribbon of stars that stretches from horizon to horizon burns brightly in some of the images. Exposures up to 30 seconds allowed enough light to enter the lens without noticeable star movement. Each location required a lot of experimentation and different lighting techniques. Sometimes a short burst of diffused light from a flashlight was sufficient, or bounced light from multiple flashlights was used for a softer more natural glow.


Beth Moon, From the Diamond Nights Series, Archival Pigment Prints, © and Courtesy Beth Moon, 2014.

Against the starlit sky, the ancient trees appear like something out of a fairytale. The peace that surrounds them adds a magical quality to the uninhabited natural world. When creating her works of art, Moon herself experienced this otherworldly feeling, staying with the trees for hours at a time to witness the powerful presence and union of Mother Earth and Father Sky. As David Milarch explains in the book, The Man Who Planted Trees, ” Trees are solar collectors. Most people equate that with the sun’s energy. But the sun is only one star, and there are billions of stars that influence the Earth with their radiation. I believe energies inside the earth are transmuted and transmitted into the cosmos by the trees, so the trees are like antennas, senders and receivers of earth energies and stellar energies.”


Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time, By Beth Moon, With Essays By Todd Forrest and Steven Brown, 2014. Beth Moon’s fourteen-year quest to photograph ancient trees has taken her across the United States, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Some of her subjects grow in isolation, on remote mountainsides, private estates, or nature preserves; others maintain a proud, though often precarious, existence in the midst of civilization. All, however, share a mysterious beauty perfected by age and the power to connect us to a sense of time and nature much greater than ourselves. It is this beauty, and this power, that Moon captures in her remarkable photographs.

This handsome volume presents sixty of Moon’s finest tree portraits as full-page duotone plates. The pictured trees include the tangled, hollow-trunked Yews, some more than a thousand years old, that grow in English churchyards; the Baobabs of Madagascar, called “upside-down trees” because of the curious disproportion of their giant trunks and modest branches; and the fantastical Dragon’s-blood trees, red-sapped and umbrella-shaped, that grow only on the island of Socotra, off the Horn of Africa.

Moon’s narrative captions describe the natural and cultural history of each individual tree, while Todd Forrest, vice president for horticulture and living collections at the New York Botanical Garden, provides a concise introduction to the biology and preservation of ancient trees. An essay by the critic Steven Brown defines Moon’s unique place in a tradition of tree photography extending from William Henry Fox Talbot to Sally Mann, and explores the challenges and potential of the tree as a subject for art.

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