In 1971, Dr. Seuss created the Lorax, an absolutely fascinating character who speaks one line that has stuck with me, and which I repeat to myself on an almost daily basis as a mantra: “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”
I have always had a very intimate connection with trees, and their branches and patterns have especially fascinated me since childhood, though I never quite understood why. I just liked looking at them for hours on end. I am Brazilian and grew up in Rio de Janeiro, a city that has a national park right in the middle of it. Almost every weekend my parents would take me and my brother to play in the midst of this great forest in the heart of a large metropolis. What a way to train the imagination of a child!
Trees play a very central and special role in my personal universe. They are supreme beings, indifferent to our toils and tribulations, standing firm and reaching for the light. Trees are entire cosmoses unto themselves, each a tiny universe in the multiverse of the forest, their branching patterns reflecting unique histories that are constantly expanding, evolving and dying.
I look at trees as individuals, each with their own personality. Trees talk to each other through chemicals they release into the air and the soil. They can nurture sick or young ones through interconnected root and mycorrhizae systems that until recently have been unknown to us. They fight off enemies using alliances with insects and other organisms. Some trees can even move! The great difference, of course, is the scale of time. Trees are patient beings. Very patient. We are not.
I have been photographing trees for thirty years now, but over the past two years I have dedicated my work almost exclusively to them and other plants. For some reason, I only now feel ready to explore their universe in a truly personal manner.
So I made this into a project and began forming a portfolio. This is a developing narrative, one of whose emerging properties is that of a guide, an aid to meditation or mindfulness. Follow the twists and turnings of the branches, locate the patterns amidst the chaos, and be present in the now of the picture. I learned that trees help us disconnect our self from the ego and reconnect to a larger universe that surrounds us and pervades us. The project also happens to bring forth certain emotions, the major ones, for me at least, being awe and wonder. Intuitively this is what I feel when I look at my subjects and also when I look at the resulting images.
This project is also meant to give a new perspective on trees. In fact, I use the branching patterns, roots, bark, leaves, etc. to create abstract images that resemble other patterns found in nature and in the universe. When looking upward at branches, for example, one sees them twisting and turning, subdividing many times and getting thinner but more numerous towards the edges, much as fractal patterns do. Also, look at how these same patterns are similar to images of cells, neural structures and even the distribution of matter across the universe. They all seem to follow the same mathematical model, as if there is one mathematical description for everything in the universe. I like to decontextualize things in my images so that we can look at them in a different way. Yes, a tree is a tree – but is it just that? Can it be a representation of some underlying, fundamental law of the universe?
Let your imagination fly: do you see the sorcerer with lightning sparking forth from his hands? Do you see the loving embrace of magical creatures whose notion of time is completely different from ours?
If nothing else, this body of work should make you look at trees in a different way next time you go out into the woods or the nearby park. Admire them for their forms and shapes. Let your eyes travel through their branches, their bark, their roots. Meditate on the life history accumulated in the wood. Appreciate the intricate patterns and relate them to other patterns found in nature, in mathematics, in the universe.
Roberto Vámos is a fine art photographer and environmentalist from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and currently residing in Lisbon, Portugal. You can learn more about his work at http://www.robertovamos.com