Zoe Naylor’s Story | Contributing author
Photos by Darwin Alberto | Photographer
Photographer and author David Paul Bayles spoke about his many photographic projects on the multifaceted beauty of trees at Middle Tennessee State University on February 19.
His work – much of it centered on trees and forestry – included evocative portraits of loggers, shots of falling trees, dreamlike forest images, and surreal photographs of trees in cityscapes.
Bayles fell in love with the practice of logging in Northern California the summer before photography school in 1973.
“A summer turned into four years of laying scarves, tying knots and skinning cats,” he said.
His exhibit includes portraits of other loggers, and he shared their stories in his presentation. Bayles spoke fondly of the men, recounting the origins of their nicknames, the stories they shared at work and dangerous mishaps on the job.
David Bayles made sure to emphasize the reality of the forest, discouraging his audience from romanticizing logging and hard work. Some of his photographs depict a dreamlike haze in which light shimmers and the world seems to stop for a moment. In reality, this haze is caused by harmful dust that settles in your lungs, ears and eyes – one of many workplace hazards. “It’s really not romantic at all,” Bayles said.
When discussing his “Falling Trees” series, Bayles described how he found connections between life and death among trees. After photographing a tree being felled, he realized he wanted to capture “that poetic moment of transition between life and death, between vertical and horizontal”, all the more relevant as Bayles told him -even survived a near-death experience while logging. This black and white series poignantly illustrates these radical juxtapositions. Even the feeling of being alone but connected with the trees is communicated through the photographs.
Bayles’ next series, “Urban Forest,” focused on the absurdity of palm trees in the cityscape. “To me, they were humorous. Ironic. Out of place,” the artist said. His images eerily depicted saguaro cacti that had been cut down, drooping palm trees in parking lots, and tree stumps cemented into sidewalks. This series represented the idea of a trichotomy – that people are made of body, soul and spirit. All three are needed for a person and “for our planet too,” Bayles said.
The “Old Growth Dialogue” series depicts Andrews Forest and its “magical realism”. This series is unique because it offers a dialectical perspective on the interior and exterior of trees. Andrews Forest has equipment to measure humidity, soil moisture, and air temperature at regular intervals throughout the day. Each photograph in the series is associated with a data strip showing this information at the exact moment the photo was taken. “It’s as if the interior of the forest created this drawing for me, telling me what is happening inside the forest,” the artist explained.
To see what stories trees have to tell, “Still, Trees” is at the Baldwin Photographic Gallery in the Bragg Building until March 10.
To contact Lifestyles Editor Ethan Pickering, email [email protected]
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