The Life of Trees

October 27, 2023

Patience is a necessary ingredient of genius – Disraeli

Ginny Stearns speaks with me about her work via email and telephone.

Glowing on the Ridge, photo and wood

This stunning photo looks to be mounted on blackened wood.

"I mounted this photograph of a magnificent oak on a square of burned wood to indicate the vulnerability of its strength and loveliness. I’m always on the lookout for interesting trees to photograph—some struggling in industrial urban areas, some celebrated in parks, some in fields, hillsides or sea cliffs. Photography gives me an opportunity to examine these trees from a number of angles. I can peer into their crevices and see the patterns in the wrinkles and whorls of the bark. The writhing roots push up through asphalt, or struggle against sidewalks, or cling to cliffs. They have to make a life wherever they have sprouted. And those trunks, not unlike our own—I want to hug them!"

Frogmouth Oak, photos and wood

It looks like "Frogmouth Oak" is composed of several photographs.

"For my work I frequently put together photographs taken from several angles to magnify the feeling of the tree. That allows me to make it bigger, to get up closer and see all that amazing bark and moss and lichen.”

Dawn Redwood, photos and wood

And here you've combined the photographs with actual branches of redwood.

"I make some photographs into constructions using boxes and branches.The wood makes the tree more tangible, allows it to come forward to your experience. The branches have to be the right shape and size, and not overwhelm the photographs. It’s quite a balancing act.”

Work in Progress
Another Studio View

"The winged figure is a sort of guardian beastie I made long ago.”

And on those shelves?

“Oh, boxes of screws, nails, bolts, waxes, sharpening stones, chisels…colored chalks, tapes, scrapers, knives. My father had this chest in his workroom, and I just loved to be there with him. He was a chemical engineer, and an inventor. He—and I learned this from him—enjoyed finding a way to make something damaged or broken work again. I took years building a house in Mendocino. That experience gave me skills for building, and for working with lots of materials. So I know what a lot of little clamps and things can do.

It was an enlarging experience for me to speak with Ginny Stearns about her work, and to learn more about what she sees in trees, and what she knows of their lives.

Miriam Davis
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