Friday, January 08, 2016

The cosmic grace of Beth Moon's trees
I think that I shall never see a book as lovely as Ancient Trees by Beth Moon. With her stunning black-and-white photographs of ancient oaks and yews in Great Britain, massive baobabs in Madagascar, freakish dragon's blood and desert rose trees on the Indian Ocean island of Socotra, sequoias and live oaks and joshua trees in the U.S., Moon makes visible the strength and fragility of trees that have stood for centuries as silent witnesses to time.

Her "Bristlecone Pine in Schulman Grove" might be mistaken at first for a sere carcass, but the twisting trunk suggests constant struggle and growth by a tree that may be as much as four thousand years old. Clocking in at a much younger 400 years, an immense English oak named Majesty carries on its trunk a hole that evokes Edvard Munch's The Scream, as if this tree were bellowing the pain of the centuries. On the other side of the world, a plump baobab named The Ifaty Teapot could, if miniaturized, inspire a whimsical cartoon character.

What makes these ancient trees so compelling? In an essay accompanying the photographs, Steven Brown captures the power of Moon's images:
To translate a tree's individuality into something universally intimate demands the skill of a portrait artist....Moon's baobabs and dragon's bloods, her ancient figs and cedars, reveal something far stranger than time's hauntings. To put it in terms equally ephemeral, Moon's portraits entertain time's blessings....Moon's trees may exist as small, monastic assemblies, some as lone oracles, but they bare their eccentricities with a cosmic grace.
Cosmic grace: I feel it in the presence of impressive trees, and Beth Moon captures that ephemeral quality and preserves it in photographs so beautiful that I hope they live as long as the trees she loves.    

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