The explosive growth seen by many Southern cities is a recent phenomenon and so the infrastructure of modern cities has been cut out of forests that formerly surrounded the metro areas. This expansion began a turf war, with both trees and power lines fighting for the same thin stretch of green space. For decades the utility companies periodically trimmed branches that might harm the lines and so over a period of time, the trees grew into bizarre and fantastical shapes. The idea of an actual war waging unnoticed on city streets caught my imagination. Hidden in plain view were literally the front lines in the Nature versus Civilization conflict. Starting in 2005, I photographed each winter in Atlanta, Nashville and Charlotte to tell this story from the point of view of the trees.
In order to shift viewers’ perception of trees from “it” to “us”, I photographed the trees exactly as I would if making portraits of people – using gesture and posture to reveal an inner life and emotions. I used the camera to force us to look at the trees and really see them. They look back at us. The photograph becomes the portal though which the trees demand to be taken into account. The portraits prompt the viewer to ask questions about the relations between nature and culture, the difference between humans and non-humans, and the evolution of the city’s civic landscape. The obvious hardships these trees survive pose the question, ‘just who are the monsters?’ Is it the trees that have been forced into unnatural shapes or the systems that place trees at the bottom of the power hierarchy?
Artist’s site: Beth Lilly
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Site tags: Beth Lilly, Trees, Monster, Street trees, Atlanta, Photographs,