Trunk Show: Shooting America’s Endangered Trees

We sent 12 of our favorite photographers to capture some of America's most significant arbored specimens.

Any student of science will tell you that life is untenable without the fresh air furnished by leafy trees. One mature tree is said to dispense enough oxygen during its growing season to keep 10 people breathing. Even the least scientific human enjoys the more obvious contributions of trees, from wood to fruit to shade from the sun. And while there may be few living entities as ecologically important, photographers clearly believe that there are also few as magnificent.

That belief is expressed not just in the innumerable images of trees photographers have created, but also in the fact that a tree’s scale and visual complexity—along with human intrusions into its space—make it a challenging subject. It compelled 19th-century photographer Carleton Watkins to set up his mammoth-plate camera whenever he saw a noble specimen, and more recently led National Geographic photographer Jim Balog to hoist himself up giant redwoods in order to shoot them digitally section by section for stitched vertical panoramas.

Still, the magnificence of trees hasn’t deterred us from cutting down roughly 12 billion of them each year for fuel, farming, building materials and other less necessary purposes. Even trees we take for granted in our own communities are endangered by development, disease, climate change and other threats. To focus our collective attention on great trees in our own midst that may need protecting, American Photo and The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) have partnered to create a traveling exhibition featuring photographs of such specimens. As part of its annual “Landslide” initiative, the foundation chose 12 trees from more than 100 nominees that were solicited from landscape architects, horticulturists and the readers of Bonnier’s Garden Design magazine, one of the project’s sponsors along with AP and TCLF. The exhibition, which will be supplemented with TCLF’s educational signboards for a special opening next spring, is called Every Tree Tells a Story.

We chose the photographers not just for their geographic connections but also for the sympathy toward the natural world displayed in their work. Just as important, though, was the work’s aesthetic excellence, because we wanted these artists to interpret the trees rather than simply record them. Visit the site of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, to learn more about this remarkable project.

Click the links below for more information about each of the photographers and the story behind the trees they shot:

Yong Hee Kim
Dave Jordano
Amy Bedik
Jay Dickman
Bob Hower
Frank Hunter
Juan A. Pons
Barbara Bosworth
James Sheldon
Garie Waltzer
Robert Glenn Ketchum
Larry Nighswander

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CITY OF TREES
The Trees: Louisville, KY’s Olmsted-designed parks and parkways
The Threat: Highway building and severe weather Read more about Bob Hower’s photos Bob Hower
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CITY OF TREES
The Trees: Louisville, KY’s Olmsted-designed parks and parkways.
The Threat: Highway building and severe weather. Read more about Bob Hower’s photos. Bob Hower
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CITY OF TREES
The Trees: Louisville, KY’s Olmsted-designed parks and parkways.
The Threat: Highway building and severe weather. Read more about Bob Hower’s photos. Bob Hower
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PRETTY IN THE CITY
The Trees: Japanese flowering cherries at Newark, NJ’s Branch Brook Park
The Threat: Urban development and poor maintenance Read more about Yong Hee Kim’s photos Yong Hee Kim
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PRETTY IN THE CITY
The Trees: Japanese flowering cherries at Newark, NJ’s Branch Brook Park.
The Threat: Urban development and poor maintenance. Read more about Yong Hee Kim’s photos. Yong Hee Kim
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PRETTY IN THE CITY
The Trees: Japanese flowering cherries at Newark, NJ’s Branch Brook Park.
The Threat: Urban development and poor maintenance. Read more about Yong Hee Kim’s photos. Yong Hee Kim
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AMAZING GRACE
The Trees: The American elms of East Hampton, NY
The Threat: Dutch elm disease Read more about Garie Waltzer’s photos Garie Waltzer
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AMAZING GRACE
The Trees: The American elms of East Hampton, NY.
The Threat: Dutch elm disease. Read more about Garie Waltzer’s photos. Garie Waltzer
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AMAZING GRACE
The Trees: The American elms of East Hampton, NY.
The Threat: Dutch elm disease. Read more about Garie Waltzer’s photos. Garie Waltzer
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FOREST CATHEDRAL
The Trees:The old-growth forest of the abandoned Arborland tree Farm, Milliken, CO.
The Threat: Urban development, habitat destruction. Read more about Jay Dickman’s photos. Jay Dickman
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FOREST CATHEDRAL
The Trees:The old-growth forest of the abandoned Arborland tree Farm, Milliken, CO.
The Threat: Urban development, habitat destruction. Read more about Jay Dickman’s photos. Jay Dickman
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FOREST CATHEDRAL
The Trees:The old-growth forest of the abandoned Arborland tree Farm, Milliken, CO
The Threat: Urban development, habitat destruction Read more about Jay Dickman’s photo. Jay Dickman
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FOREST CATHEDRAL
The Trees:The old-growth forest of the abandoned Arborland tree Farm, Milliken, CO.
The Threat: Urban development, habitat destruction. Read more about Jay Dickman’s photos. Jay Dickman
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WISE ELDER
The Tree: A historic tulip poplar at Washington, DC’s Tudor Place Historic House and Garden.
The Threat: The tree’s age, which makes it more vulnerable to weather and environmental changes. Read more about Amy Bedik’s photos__. Amy Bedik
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WISE ELDER
The Tree: A historic tulip poplar at Washington, DC’s Tudor Place Historic House and Garden.
The Threat: The tree’s age, which makes it more vulnerable to weather and environmental changes. Read more about Amy Bedik’s photos. Amy Bedik
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WISE ELDER
The Tree: A historic tulip poplar at Washington, DC’s Tudor Place Historic House and Garden
The Threat: The tree’s age, which makes it more vulnerable to weather and environmental changes Read more about Amy Bedik’s photos__. Amy Bedik
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ANCIENT MARKS
The Trees: The boxed pines of Weymouth Heights, in NC.
The Threat: Development, fire suppression. Read more about Frank Hunter’s photos. Frank Hunter
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ANCIENT MARKS
The Trees: The boxed pines of Weymouth Heights, in NC
The Threat: Development, fire suppression Read more about Frank Hunter’s photos Frank Hunter
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ANCIENT MARKS
The Trees: The boxed pines of Weymouth Heights, in NC.
The Threat: Development, fire suppression. Read more about Frank Hunter’s photos. Frank Hunter
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ROAD WARRIORS
The Trees: Three massive bark-cloth ficuses in San Juan, P.R.
The Threat: A major highway passing directly under the trees’ canopy Read more about Juan A. Pons’ photos__. Juan A. Pons
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ROAD WARRIORS
The Trees: Three massive bark-cloth ficuses in San Juan, P.R.
The Threat: A major highway passing directly under the trees’ canopy. Read more about Juan A. Pons’ photos. Juan A. Pons
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MALL WALKING
The Trees: Commonwealth Avenue Mall, Boston, MA
The Threat: Heavy use and Dutch elm disease Read more about James Sheldon’s photos James Sheldon
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MALL WALKING
The Trees: Commonwealth Avenue Mall, Boston, MA.
The Threat: Heavy use and Dutch elm disease. Read more about James Sheldon’s photos. James Sheldon
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GARDEN TREE
The Trees: The Cummer Oak, a live oak at Jacksonville, Florida’s Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens
The Threat: Age and weather Read more about Larry Nighswander’s photos Larry Nighswander
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GARDEN TREE
The Trees: The Cummer Oak, a live oak at Jacksonville, Florida’s Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.
The Threat: Age and weather. Read more about Larry Nighswander’s photos Larry Nighswander
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WISE ELDER
The Tree: A historic tulip poplar at Washington, DC’s Tudor Place Historic House and Garden
The Threat: The tree’s age, which makes it more vulnerable to weather and environmental changes Read more about Amy Bedik’s photos Barbara Bosworth
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WISE ELDER
The Tree: A historic tulip poplar at Washington, DC’s Tudor Place Historic House and Garden.
The Threat: The tree’s age, which makes it more vulnerable to weather and environmental changes. Read more about Amy Bedik’s photos. Barbara Bosworth
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FOR THE AGES
The Tree: a massive black oak at the Katewood estate, Bratenahl, OH.
The Threat: Age and weather. Read more about Barbara Bosworth’s photos__. Barbara Bosworth
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THE FIG TREE
** **The Trees:
The Aoyama Tree, a Moreton Bay fig growing in a Los Angeles parking lot
The Threat: THE lack of water and nutrients due to asphalt paving; overpruning Read more about Robert Glenn Ketchum’s photos Robert Glenn Ketchum
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THE FIG TREE
** **The Trees:
The Aoyama Tree, a Moreton Bay fig growing in a Los Angeles parking lot.
The Threat: THE lack of water and nutrients due to asphalt paving; overpruning. Read more about Robert Glenn Ketchum’s photos Robert Glenn Ketchum
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THE FIG TREE
** **The Trees:
The Aoyama Tree, a Moreton Bay fig growing in a Los Angeles parking lot.
The Threat: THE lack of water and nutrients due to asphalt paving; overpruning. Read more about Robert Glenn Ketchum’s photos Robert Glenn Ketchum
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THE FIG TREE
** **The Trees:
The Aoyama Tree, a Moreton Bay fig growing in a Los Angeles parking lot.
The Threat: THE lack of water and nutrients due to asphalt paving; overpruning. Read more about Robert Glenn Ketchum’s photos Robert Glenn Ketchum
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TEST OF TIME
The Trees: A 100-year-old row of American sycamores in Ames, Iowa.
The Threat: Infrastructure development; flooding. Read more about Dave Jordano’s photos. Dave Jordano
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TEST OF TIME
The Trees: A 100-year-old row of American sycamores in Ames, Iowa
The Threat: Infrastructure development; flooding Read more about Dave Jordano’s photos Dave Jordano