cover image Tree: A New Vision of the American Forest

Tree: A New Vision of the American Forest

David Friend, James Balog, Jim Balog. Sterling, $50 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-7607-6216-5

In his innovative 1990 book, Survivors, nature photographer Balog used the conventions of fashion photography to make portraits of endangered species: he posed a mandrill on a stool, for example, and snapped a Florida panther against a white sheet. It was a method that simultaneously highlighted their individuality as creatures and their status as threatened species. Later, he began to photograph trees that way, using cranes to hoist giant white backdrops and capturing oaks and cottonwoods against their clean billowing lines. But, as Friend writes in his introduction, Balog wasn't fully satisfied, and eventually, he hit upon the method highlighted in this book: multiple digital photographs snapped from hundreds of angles and then arranged into a composite photograph that combines pure, detailed realism with the playful dynamism of cubism. The portraits gathered here are a stunning tribute to majestic trees across America, and paired mini-essays offer a wealth of tree trivia. Readers will learn that chlorophyll and blood are ""nearly identical substances"" differing ""by only a single atom out of the 137 atoms in each of their molecular structures,"" and that lightning strikes oak more than any other species of tree. Those who imagined arboreal photography as a leisurely process will revise their opinions upon reading about Balog's efforts to photograph the coastal redwood nicknamed the Stratosphere Giant. Strung up in a ""sort of Tyrolean traverse"" 35 stories up and buffeted by winds, Balog took photos while fearing for his life. The end result: 814 frames, taken from the top all the way down, which he then assembled into a single giant mosaic photograph (in this book, it's a fold-out three-pager). It's a mind-boggling image-one of many in this gorgeous volume.