Trees and Originality

After just finishing some printing and scanning of more photographs from my last trip to California, I was talking with someone about photographing the Lower Owens River Project. I mentioned that part of what I am doing documenting the changes in the landscape. But along with that, I want to make personal records of what I feel makes this place so special. That thought was reaffirmed earlier this evening as I was reading an essay that, on the surface, was a defense of straight photography which draws its inspiration from the natural world.

 

Lower Owens River, June, 2007

Some people believe, because that specific "genre" has been so thoroughly explored, there is no possibility for originality by working in such" traditional" ways. The essay I was reading earlier tonight was born from that very argument. Originally written in 1976 by a graduate student at RISD, and to substantiate his point of view, he included ideas about the nature of art, originality, and expression—some of which are the best I have ever read. There are several other articles and essays here that I should to have enough time this week on which to read and reflect. But, in the mean time, I will simply post a statement by the Modernist painter, Paul Klee. This was originally published 1924 in Modern Artists on Art, and, I think, it is still as relevant as ever.

For the Artist, communication with nature remains the essential condition. The artist is human; himself nature; a part of nature within natural space."

May I use the simile of a tree? The artist has studied this world of variety,, and has, we may suppose, unobtrusively found his way in it. His sense of direction has brought order into the passing stream of image and experience. This sense of direction in nature and life, this branching and spreading array, I shall compare with the root of the tree.

From the root the sap flows to the artist, flows through him, flows to his eyes.

Thus he stands as the truck of the tree.

As in full view of the world, the crown of the tree unfolds and spreads in time and in space, so with his work.

Nobody would affirm that the tree grows its crown in the image of its roots. Between above and below can be no mirrored reflection.

And yet, standing at his appointed place he does nothing more that gather and pass on what come to him from the depths. He neither serves nor rules—he transmits.

His position is humble. And the beauty at the crown is not his own. He is merely a channel.

--Paul Klee