Images in Trees
How imagination connects us with our environment
After 23 years of searching and discovering, my curiosity has only increased. Now I want to know everything!
As ecologists, natural resources managers, foresters and conservationists we are working in, and with, our forests; our professional perspective focused on timber, biodiversity, and ecosystem services.
But, what about our personal perspective, our feelings, and connectedness with our forests and nature?
We co-evolved with the forests, nurtured within their sanctuary. Our senses are conditioned to navigate the forests, fine-tuned to recognize their dynamics, and perceive them as a living organism.
When walking inside a forest, we see the sunlight shining through the leaves of the canopy. We feel the humidity. We smell the soil. We do not feel alone. We connect with our environment.
Interview with Paul Rolans
In the following interview, OpenForests spoke with photographer and artist Paul Rolans. He enlightens us on how he connects with his environment, specifically the forests, and individual trees, by looking at them through the eye of his imagination.
OpenForests: What is your background and what inspired you to take photos of trees?
I was born into a creative family, in a house surrounded by trees on the edge of a forest that bordered a heath landscape. Trees were everywhere I looked. I felt challenged and inspired by them. The challenge was to climb them, to the top! In the early days, when I was still intensely involved in music and songwriting, I would take a walk in the forest and the trees always inspired me to find the exact words that I needed to finish a song. At that time, I also started to photograph and was looking for my own style. Later I had the opportunity to discover the world of art, I worked for a gallery and I visited many important exhibitions, art fairs at home and abroad, which I still do today. So, I had the opportunity to get to know the various art directions and to school my eye.
One day in November 1995, during a walk in the forest, I saw an “Image” in a tree for the first time. It reminded me of one of the many works of art I had seen over the course of time. When I began to notice these images in trees, I could not shut my imagination down and began to see more and more images. And from that moment everything changed for me.
Suddenly I had found my own style. I called my photo series “Images in Trees” and since that day I have been working on it.
OpenForests: How is your approach to taking photos different from typical nature photography?
Much nature photography is about the big picture. A landscape, with flora and fauna. Even when zooming in, it is always important that forests, trees, animals, water and deserts, for example, remain recognizable as such.
I zoom in, but from a different perspective and with a different intention. I want to show the “Images” that are not visible at first, but that are indeed there. Someone once said, after seeing my pictures, that I am actually a philosopher. I took it as a compliment!
OpenForests: “Images in Trees” is seeing something in or on the surface of a tree. Factually, it is the bark or wood structure, a weathered or mossy or partially snow-covered surface and the light and shade at a specific moment in the day. But, the pictures that appear are more than that?
Yes, they are more than that, because they are made with my special view on trees and by my photographic know how. They say, you can only see what you know, and I think that is true. The trees are like a mirror, reflecting images that are present in my unconscious. So, by photographing new images all the time, I get to know myself better and better. After 23 years of searching and discovering, my curiosity has only increased. Now I want to know everything!
OpenForests: In comparison to satellite and drone imagery used to analyse the forest cover, your photography focuses on close-up and easy to be overlooked elements. Why have you chosen this focus?
I did not choose it at first. One day I suddenly saw images in the trees and I had to train this focus to be able to photograph them. After that I noticed that the forest was full of these images, if only I looked in a different way. When I was in the right mood then there was no stopping it and I felt like I was in a new exotic country viewing my surroundings for the first time. Paul in Wonderland! After all these years, this feeling has lost none of its intensity, because now I even see images in trees where I did not suspect them before.
So, to answer your question with a question: did I choose, or was I chosen? At least now I have chosen to continue!
OpenForests: Would you be able to find such beautiful images in any kind of forest around the world?
Yes, after many years of experience I can say that with certainty. Of course, every forest and every tree in that forest has its own character, and therefore also its own image. The images of each forest differ from one another, but the lines and style are recognizable.
Or to put it another way: “Images in Trees” is like a universal language of nature, in which I can tell a different story in every forest, in every country.
“Images in Trees” is like a universal language of nature, in which I can tell a different story in every forest, in every country.