Africa’s Ancient Trees, Surrounded by a Blanket of Stars

Beth Moon’s images of ancient trees, so stunning in their stature and grandeur, straddle the line between fantasy and reality. For Diamond Nights, she spent many moonless nights in the African bush, making long exposure images of trees shrouded in a blanket of stars. She was inspired by scientific studies that link tree growth to the heavens. The idea was at once romantic and alluring. “The sun is just one star, after all,” Moon says. “That really flipped me backwards.”

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Trees have long been a subject of Moon’s—her book Ancient Trees is a collection of her stunning platinum print images of the largest, oldest, and most storied trees on earth. For Diamond Nights, she decided to embrace digital photography because the images she wanted to make required a pumped up ISO and drawn out exposure time. She originally thought the series would be black and white as well, but found that she couldn’t sacrifice the color. The result are images of a sky so brilliant they look as though they’ve been meticulously painted as some childlike, awestruck fantasy of the heavens. The title of each image comes from constellations named by the Greeks and Romans, a nod to the long history of human fascination with these natural wonders…continued at WIRED

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DIAMOND NIGHTS

As night falls over the Makgadigadi Pans, large trees stand starkly against the horizon, leafless branches reach for the light. As the sun sinks lower, the sky drains of all color until just red remains. On the opposite side of the sky, Earth’s shadow is rising, bringing a curtain of indigo and the promise of a clear night. Science and art merge as a myriad of stars burn fiercely overhead, dissolving into infinitude, and our thoughts follow.

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Our relationship to the wild has always played an important role in my work. This series was inspired by two fascinating, scientific studies that connect tree growth with celestial movement and astral cycles. Most locations were truly wild and remote, far from civilization and light pollution in the southern hemisphere of Africa in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Mighty and eccentric baobabs and surreal quiver trees are featured in this work, titled after constellations named by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

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STUDIES
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have shown that trees grow faster when high levels of cosmic radiation reach the earth’s surface, concluding that cosmic radiation impacts tree growth even more than annual temperature or rainfall. Secondly, renowned researcher, Lawrence Edwards, found that tree buds changed shape and size rhythmically, in regular cycles all through winter, directly correlating to the moon and planets. The oak for example, appears to change with Mars, the Beech with Saturn and the Birch with Venus. Curiously, Edwards also found that overhead power lines disrupted this planetary influence. As David Milarch explains in the book, The Man Who Planted Trees, “Trees are solar collectors. Most people equate that with the sun’s energy. But the sun is only one star, and there are billions of stars that influence the Earth with their radiation. I believe energies inside the earth are transmuted and transmitted into the cosmos by the trees, so the trees are like antennas, senders and receivers of earth energies and stellar energies.”

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TECHNICAL NOTES
The majority of these photographs were created during moonless nights, shot with a wide angle lens and ISO of 3200 – 6400. The Milky Way, a ribbon of stars that stretches from horizon to horizon burns brightly in some of the images. Exposures up to 30 seconds allowed enough light to enter the lens without noticeable star movement. Each location required a lot of experimenting. and different lighting techniques. Sometimes a short burst of diffused light from a flashlight was sufficient, or bounced light from multiple flashlights was used for a softer more natural glow.

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