Friday, June 18, 2010

Sweetgum Project 1.0

We are not in control.


Back in mid-February I got the idea to chronicle in photographs the growth of the leaves on a tree just outside my front door. In the courtyard of the complex where I live there's a number of trees, but for simple reasons of proximity I chose the American Sweetgum that's closest to me, rather than one of the two Sweetgums on the opposite side of the courtyard area; it was the one I pass every day as I walk in or out the door, and thus the easiest to remember to shoot.

I'd captured the tree in the past (as seen in these posts), but that was showing the changing of leaves in the autumn. In February the tree was complete barren, without a single leave or pod on it, so this seemed like a good time to start the project. I figured that I'd make a point of getting detailed shots focusing on a specific branch (the highest one) as the one to track the progress of how the leaves and other blooms developed, along with getting general shots of other branches just as accompaniment.

It wouldn't be a time-lapse thing, as I wouldn't be setting up a tripod to shoot the exact same shot of that highest branch from the same angle every time (being a common area I couldn't just leave such an object there all the time); I'd stand in the same spot, certainly, but obviously that wouldn't be precise. That wasn't the point. The nibs at the end of the branches had not yet started to sprout, and the transformation they would undergo should still be interesting enough even from perhaps slightly different angles. Given the rate of growth I figured that shooting once a week would be sufficient; that should allow for there to be at least some modestly noticeable differences.

And on that Sunday before Lincoln's birthday I did go out in the mid-morning and get some shots. Here's the shot of that highest branch I selected, showing how it looked that morning:

Then later in that week I started to question whether I could actually stick with the project for months and months? And it wasn't so much the shooting that concerned me; that wouldn't be too time-consuming (just walk out the front door with the camera, spend a few minutes out there, come back inside) but all that comes afterward in order to get the best ones up on the photo site. (Notice how it took me until June just to get to this part.) Ultimately, might the inspiration for the project wear off long before it was completed?

Nonetheless, I did make the effort to go out and shoot the tree the following two Sundays, and although there was some discernible changes it was still very subtle. See for yourself:

(Click on the dates above to go to the corresponding photo site post to see more from that day.)

As I passed the tree during the week leading up to the 14th what I was noticing lead me to think when I took those shots the upcoming Sunday there'd be the first really clear differences captured.

However, on the morning of the 14th of March when I pointed the camera toward the tallest branch there was nothing but empty sky.
March 14
Looking down from the second story walkway (from which I was taking these shots) I saw this:

On the Friday before that Sunday the entire tree was taken down. (At the time I had no idea why.) The big planter area in which it had been was completely dug up (as can be seen in the photo above); no tree, no soil, nothing. Clearly it had been dug up with the approval of building management, for whatever reason, but that didn't make it any less gone.

Reaction #1: Well, uh, so much for the project. Here I get an idea, start making efforts to begin executing that idea, and then Fate comes along and rips it out by the roots (literally and figuratively). Frak me.

Reaction #2: If the tree was destined to be removed, at least it occurred early on in the course of the project. Had Fate really wanted to mess with me the removal of the tree wouldn't have happened at this stage; it would have happened months into the project, after I'd already invested many weeks of shooting and hours of getting posts up.

So in the afternoon on Sunday the 14th I walked to the other side of the courtyard, to the two remaining Sweetgum trees, and took so shots of the branches on one of those. They may not have been at the exact same stage of growth as the original subject tree, but they had the advantage of being still around.

Thus began the Sweetgum Project version 2.0. [updated] (Posts now available.)

But for now, please click on over and enjoy the all the shots from Sweetgum Project 1.1 - 1.3 on the photo site to honor this tree's last weeks.


Once you accept you're not in control, everything gets a little easier, both with photography and in life.


  1. How frustrating that they removed your tree! Lovely pictures, though.

  2. I've learned the hard way: shoot it then 'cause tomorrow it might not be there. Or if it is, the lighting will suck.


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