Photographing a tree can present some challenges. You can walk around it to select the best angle, or pick a time of day with the best lighting conditions, but you still have to deal with the fact that the tree stays rooted in its spot and that the background behind the tree may be an unsightly or incomprehensible mess.
Myoung-Ho Lee. Tree #8, archival InkJet print. [ source ]
Last year I ran across the work of Korean photographer Myoung-Ho Lee, whose photos of trees present an elegant–and spectacularly not practical–solution to this problem of background. He just brings a plain background with him and stands it up behind the tree. If you figure that the trees in the photos are at least 25 feet tall, you get a sense of how huge the background sheet has to be.
Myoung-Ho Lee. Tree #13, archival InkJet print. [ source ]
Some of the photos have just the tree isolated against the plain background. Others show the tree and background in the larger context of the landscape where the tree is growing.
The results are pretty amazing, and create photos that are rich with suggestion and ideas about photography.
Myoung-Ho Lee. Tree #11, archival InkJet print. [ source ]
You might be driven to think about the fact that to photograph something in the wilds is to select it. Although this act of selecting the tree isn’t really digging the thing up from nature, it’s still bringing something from the wilds indoors onto a wall. That might make you think that photography–and much of art–is finding something interesting interesting in the world and bringing it into a gallery.
You also might think that looking at a photograph of something might tell you something about how the thing in the photo looks, but very little about its context or meaning.
And you might even think of Marcel Duchamp displaying a signed urinal in an exhibition, with the basic premise that if an artist calls something art, it’s art.
Myoung-Ho Lee. Tree #12, archival InkJet print. [ source ]
None of those thoughts are “right answers,” and you will probably have other thoughts of your own. I think you’ll agree, however, that these are some of the more striking photographs of trees that have ever been taken.