"Tree: A New Vision of the American Forest" by Balog, James

In his video stream “Formal Upright Refinement”, Ryan mentions James Balog’s book “Tree: A New Vision of the American Forest”. I ordered my copy during the stream. It came in this past Monday. It’s a well executed book. The book is 16" wide and 12-1/2" high. This is important to note because there are several fold-out pages. Some to give you a sense of sprawling width for a live oak, others to give you a dizzying sense of height for trees such as the sequoia.

The photography is a little off-putting at first. There is no way to properly photograph the entirety of a single tree in a forest from its roots to its crown. Rather a compromise must be made. Rather than clear-cutting a football field’s length of forest, the photographer took several photographs, even several dozen, or a few hundred (!), and stitched the photos together. The effect works well or many of the trees if the reader is forgiving of the repeated, stuttered, backgrounds.

Featured in Ryan’s video is a coastal redwood with many vertical trunks running parallel with the main trunk. This is nothing I’ve seen in styled bonsai show trees. It makes it difficult to look at Ryan’s end-product and appreciate what he’s trying to accomplish. On pages 110-111 of the book is a beautiful example of what Ryan sees in his own tree. The tree has numerous vertical trunks. It looks magnificent.

On a technical note: To capture the full height of the tree in the book takes the full 32-inch width of the opened book, and nearly 50 rows of photos. Some of these stitched rows utilize 8 or more photos. It’s easy to estimate that this one tree is represented by at least 300 photos.

As a resource for bonsai, this book is invaluable. The photographer captured the unique spirit of his subjects. (Hmm… is this more valuable as a resource for penjing?) Bonsai teaches us how to examine trees in nature and capture what makes them beautiful; what makes them unique. The photographer lays these trees out for us with a like-minded approach. The photos speak to the bonsai artist as if to say “This is beauty. Learn from me.”

My only gripe is very personal. I live in a land of beautiful giants and would have loved to see the author’s technique used to capture an ancient bald cypress. The book has more than enough sprawling live oaks (my second love) to make up for this minor complaint.

The supporting text to the photos is more than adequate to give background to the trees. But for as long as you may take reading the book, you should take ten times as long inspecting the photographs. These trees have stories to tell. As artists, we should study and listen and learn. We need to understand the fundamentals of storytelling utilized by the trees. Then we need to use these lessons to give our own trees their individual voices.


Thanks for this recommendation, i missed the original reference. Now on order :smile:

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