Trees and forests have grown on Earth for millions of years. Since Antiquity, they have symbolized longevity and fertility through its fruits and its durability over time. Trees, plants and forests have important meanings in all cultures. Trees represent the link between earth and sky, therefore between men and God. Forests are alternately places of peace or meditation or mysterious, even disturbing places. They have a magical aura.
Today, some photographers make photographic series focusing on trees and plants. Their work is at the crossroads of several disciplines: photography of course, but also botanical, for some, and urban anthropology, since they observe the contemporary relationship to our living spaces, and to the trees and plants in them.
At a time when global warming and urbanization threaten ecosystems and affect trees and plants, these photographs bear witness to the fragile beauty of our ecosystems. They remind us of the importance of trees and the plant world, which are essential in regulating the climate and the survival of the many species that depend on them.
Contemporary photography offers multiple representations of trees and nature. Several approaches are presented in this exhibition. We begin our exploration with the magical dimension of trees and forests: sources of wonder and admiration, to then discover their capacity for adaptation and resilience in the heart of cities and buildings.
The work of photographer George TICE offers a privileged testimony to the changes that swept through America in the second half of the 20th century. The artist has photographed extensively American cities on the East Coast, large and small, but also the trees and plants that are found there. In a changing urban landscape, his photographs bear witness to the changes in American society and the environment.
Tree with carvings is a close-up, focusing on the patterns of the bark of a tree, on which inscriptions have been carved. A subtle setting in abyss operates: the tree is represented as an artistic subject, while itself being a canvas on which creativity is expressed. In Tree, swing, and windows, the tree is part of the garden, both a play area and a viewing pleasure. The fact that a swing has been affixed to it shows that the inhabitants have appropriated the plant being, which also lives in a certain way in the house.
Ferns and Oak Tree, meanwhile, represent what remains of unspoiled nature around New York and New Jersey. Faced with urbanization, old or recent, depicted in the photographer’s work, this tree and these ferns offer a rare vegetal parenthesis.
Cássio VASCONCELLOS is a Brazilian photographer known for his photographs of the rainforest made between 2015 and 2019. Before this series, he had already had a first success with his series of nocturnal photographs. It had enabled him to obtain an artistic residency in Paris. On this occasion he continued his series through the streets of the City of Light, incorporating the trees into photographs that seem to capture the texture of the night. Trees are the only organic elements of the evening featuring statues and buildings in the capital. They come to live there and participate of the almost disturbing atmosphere of these images.
Romain VEILLON photographs abandoned spaces. His photographic practice is part of a movement called Urbex, a contraction of Urban Exploration. It is about exploring derelict buildings and places that people rarely enter. Romain VEILLON has photographed these places during his travels around the world. Italian villas, buildings from the communist era in Bulgaria, colonial houses in Namibia, bridges: all are empty or abandoned and come back to mother nature. Often, after several decades, the sand or vegetation regains its rights.
Unlike urban spaces where nature is reduced to heartache, here it is the ivy cannibalizing the stones and the plants growing in the middle of the buildings. Romain VEILLON’s photographs have an ambivalent atmosphere. Abandonment can sometimes create a mortuary yet hopeful atmosphere. As if we were observing the Earth after a disaster and yet life continues. The presence of plants counterbalances the idea of ruin and brings a certain softness to his images. We find ourselves facing a winter garden left fallow. The bay windows become greenhouses where summer plants take refuge.
View of European artists on the “New World”: trips and expeditions organized by various European courts in the 19th century (sponsorship of Tsars, kings and princes, etc.). Over several years, with explorers and artists. Paintings and engravings on cities (Rio), ethnography and Brazilian nature. Many botanists are also artists and depict the nature of the Amazonian and Atlantic forests in an approach that is half artistic and half scientific.
Landscape painting in Brazil took off in the 19th century
History of botanical iconography in Brazil: artistas viajantes, Clarac, Flora Brasiliensis, the Langsdorff expedition, Taunay, Austrian expedition to Brazil: VASCONCELLOS.
The context of the Amazon rainforest explorations, and the works of art drawn from it, changes over the centuries. First, in the 19th century, Brazil was explored by Europeans because it was seen as a new place, no consideration for the civilizations already present and their relationship to the forest and plants. We note the desire to document “new and pristine” landscapes. The paintings are made by and for Europeans. New botanical species arouse the curiosity of settlers.
VASCONCELLOS’ stance is different: for him, it is necessary nowadays to rediscover the Amazon rainforest, while our civilization lets the forest die. To show the forest is to protect it, as well as the indigenous peoples who inhabit it.
Cássio VASCONCELLOS is the great-great-grandson of Ludwig RIEDEL, who was part of the Langsdroff expedition. Brazilian photographer, he begins his series at Picturesque Voyage Through Brazil in 2015.
The story of his explorer and botanist artist ancestor inspired him, and he too decided to "map" the jungle. To produce this series, he crossed the Amazonian and Atlantic forests, camera in hand, to offer us a photographic testimony of the beauty and majesty of its vegetation. The particular shooting technique gives a unique grain to the photographs, and they appear to be lithographs. Green is everywhere, trees and forest are characters in their own right.
Romain VEILLON explored the history of the penal colony of Guyanne, on Île Saint-Joseph, in the footsteps of Papillon. Papillon is the nickname of Henri CHARRIÈRE, a former convict made famous for his semi-autobiographical book. His multiple escapes have built the legend of this man.
Romain VEILLON went back in the footsteps of this former prisoner and observed the passage of time. The vegetation has largely damaged the integrity of the penitentiary facility. The abolition of the penal colony was obtained under the Popular Front in 1938 by the Guyanese deputy Gaston Monnerville. The convicts must however finish their sentences. The penal colony of Guyana was therefore finally suppressed in 1945 and the last prisoners were released in 1953. This place of suffering was then abandoned.
Romain VEILLON, 2018:
With this series of photographs, I wanted to question myself on this contradiction which seemed essential to me. For this, I tried to transcribe as faithfully as possible the atmosphere laden with memories that emerges from its ruins.
Mitch DOBROWNER is a famous American photographer specializing in landscape photography. He enjoys the work of his illustrious predecessors, such as Ansel ADAMS or Minor WHITE. The history of landscape photographers is a major part of world photography. They laid the foundations for an aesthetic which is illustrated by virtuosity in the play of contrasts of black and white photography. You can find this story through our online exhibition about american black and white landscapes. It is also their work which is at the origin of the constitution of the American national parks, powerful system of environmental protection and nature preservation.
The following photographs of trees and plants should be placed in the context of the work of Mitch DOBROWNER: he is fond of monumental landscapes, remarkable “works” of nature, the great American expanses, and phenomena geological and meteorological. Here, large trees and plants are treated the same.
The black and white accentuates the contrast between trunk, branches and leaves. Surrounded by the clouds and climatic phenomena which make the mark of DOBROWNER, the trees bathe in an evanescent light which surrounds and animates them. The trees they photograph are spared by construction and the presence of humans: they are the main characters, and the photographs seem timeless. It thus gives to see a preserved space.
Maggie TAYLOR is a pioneer of digital photomontage. In the 1990s, she adopted digital technology and played with the possibilities of Photoshop. His creative universe is characterized by his taste for surrealism and the supernatural. She draws her inspiration from the tales of Hans Christian ANDERSEN, Lewis CARROLL and Charles PERRAULT. This reappropriation of tales and legends is reminiscent of the work of another American: Walt DISNEY. The universe of Maggie TAYLOR is more disturbing than the ones of the famous director, also playing on the absurd and the feeling of loneliness, themes that can be compared to those of René MAGRITTE.
Maggie TAYLOR is fond of color, animals and 19th century characters. She merges them and arranges them in landscapes where trees, boats and clouds become vehicles of the imagination. Branches and roots seem to branch out in a manner analogous to our thoughts. The viewer is then drawn into reveries populated by fantastic animals and malicious leprechauns.
At Maggie TAYLOR’s in That Good Night: the uprooted tree floats in the middle of the night. We spot a swing that can symbolize the idea of play and an imagination specific to childhood. This is a precious key to understanding your work. The tree is a playground, climbing to the branches amounts to accessing a space where the spectator can reconnect with the marvelous. In this respect the treetops are like clouds, a means of escape and creation. where children build their cabins and invent characters.
The Dryads & Fauns series of photographs draws on classical European painting. Cássio VASCONCELLOS has produced photomontages by combining tropical forest landscapes from his series "A Picturesque Voyage through Brazil" with academic nudes from the 19th century. He will search in the collections of the largest museums in the world (MoMA, Musée d’Orsay, Museum of Fine Arts of Rio de Janeiro ...) as well as within private art collections. Through these photomontages Cássio VASCONCELLOS personifies woods and watercourses and reappropriates a pictorial heritage while paying homage to it.
In Jerry UELSMANN’s photographs, roots play a central role. The house or the nest, symbols of home, births, life, always depend on the roots. The latter dig into the ground for their subsistence. However, the basement is traditionally associated with the kingdom of the dead. Many civilizations, including our own, bury their dead. By giving this primordial role to the roots, Jerry UELSMANN emphasizes the idea of the cycle of life and the interdependence between the dead and the living.