“Art depends on there being affection in its creator’s life, and an artist must finds ways,
like everyone else, to nourish it.”
Robert Adams (Why People Photograph)
I love how, etymologically, the root of the word "affection" -- which includes inclination, passion, enthusiasm, love, and attraction -- comes from the past participle stem of afficere, "to do something to, act on," i.e. to affect something.
I think a lot about this when I am in the presence of trees. I know I am not alone in my affection for them. I suspect I also am not alone in my feeling that trees may very well have an affection for us. And, at least in the etymological sense, no one can deny that they do. They are certainly central to our life as providers of oxygen, key participants in the water cycle, and suppliers of food and shelter. Their action in our lives is paramount to our well-being. But for some of us their affection extends much further. They do something inside of us, inspire us to feel something, something grounding, nourishing, and lasting, something we want to acknowledge by making a portrait.
By seeing them so intently, many of us also feel seen, as scientist photographer James Balog conveys so beautifully in Tree: A New Vision of the American Forest,
“Though my affinity for trees is obvious, I don’t usually indulge in romantic, druidic speculation about them. When I’m in the presence of trees like this oak, though, I can’t help wonder who truly is the observer and who is the observed. While we watch them, do they gaze back at us? It is easy to understand the reciprocity of the visual exchange when a creature has eyes. Does a plant have some other sense that we mammals lack the capacity to understand?" (124).
I certainly have felt the same and I often wonder if and how much trees can sense. Do they feel our presence? Are they responding, or do we simply see our own reflection bouncing back to us? I don't know. I do know, though, that they nourish my affection and I will continue to reciprocate that affection by photographing them. It is one small way of expressing my gratitude for all they do for us.