Trees, Humanity, and Reaching for the Light
Feb 14th 2023
BY Rebecca Senf for meansandmatters.bankofthewest.com
One day in 1981, photographer David Paul Bayles was rushing through Santa Barbara, California, to pick up film for a job when he noticed a tree.
Tree and Three Windows, 1981, from the series Urban Forest
Santa Barbara, CA
The recent photography graduate from Brooks Institute of Photography was struck by the relationship of the tree to three curtained windows, lit from inside. The juxtaposition of the sinuous trunk, elegantly branching into a dark mass of leaves, with the geometry of the building’s linear bricks signaled something to the photographer. There was rhythm, pattern, contrast, and tension, but also, there was something elemental about the proximity and interaction between nature, symbolized by this lone and beautiful tree, and the presence of humanity in the form of a background-filling building, a massive dominating structure.
Bayles felt the photo’s exploration of this relationship between humanity and trees had potential as an ongoing area of study. He continued to make these urban forest pictures as they appeared to him, and eventually, the work gained the notice of journalists, gallerists, and publishers. Over many years, his work on the subject garnered articles, exhibitions, and, ultimately, a 2003 book published by the Sierra Club called Urban Forest: Images of Trees in the Human Landscape. That human-tree connection remains a central theme in his work today, including a recent and ongoing project on wildfires and forest recovery, as well as the upcoming publication of Sap In Their Veins, a photography book featuring intimate portraits of loggers and their work among the trees.
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