Dec 232010

An image from the opening reception buy Jean Gaumy of Magnum Photo.

Fresh Air From Central Park

The corner of 59th Street & Central

Park West has endured more

reconstructive surgeries than porn

star.  Between the chain stores and

expensive high rises, there is a

breath of fresh air coming off the

park.  25 CPW, an artist run gallery

whose recent show that takes us

back in time to explore our first friend

in nature, the tree.

We All Do It

The dirty secret in photography is that at one time, we all take the same pictures.  Before anyone is off winning the Pulitzer Prize or World Press Awards, every photographer got their start, documenting the same subjects teenagers are shooting today; trees, family, or sunsets.  Why is it worth going the see an entire photography show about trees?  Because a good photographer can take something as simple as a tree and show you, that you have never really seen one before.

There We Are, Where Are We?

When we look at pictures, our brains search for recognizable forms that match ideas in our heads.  Whether they are a silhouetted against the sky or casting a shadow on a building, photographers use trees to describe a setting.  Ernest Hemingway encouraged writers to include details that seem unimportant, like the labels in a wine bottles or the shelves in a hotel room.  Because fifty years later, these details will give a reader the feel of a place.

Stuart Franklin's image of the student protesting in Tiananmen Square.


The exhibition “Giving Trees” mixes famous photo journalists from the last fifty years with younger photographers.  From Stuart Franklin, who took the Tiananman Square student protest to Bruce Davidson, who took an 8″x10″ view camera up to Harlem’s east 100th Street, giving the world a glimpse into the unknown, there is an overlap in many portfolios.  At one time or another, trees a find a place in everyone’s pictures.

Bruce Davidson for his series East 100th Street, 1968.

What To Expect

Certain subjects are photographed to death.  Finding a new perspective on the Eiffel Tower might be a waste of time.  After a few million photographs, its safe to say something are best left to post cards.  Looking at pictures of familiar subjects will get boring very quickly unless there is a new perspective pushing up through the cracks.

When confronted with a refugee from Rwanda, we see a person obviously suffering.  Perched on a broken tree, the focus is on this lost soul, gazing hopelessly at the horizon.  The tree is just a component of the picture.  On its own, the tree, doesn’t have much significance.  Unlike landscape photography, that looks at life without people, the collection of images in “Giving Tree” starts to thread a connection that trees play in everyones life.  They are a source of shelter, inspiration or more importantly a higher vantage point.  Trees, whether we climb up them or into them, allow us to step outside ourselves and access a fresh outlook on the bigger picture.

For those of you who are familiar with the Magnum Photographers on exhibit (Bruce Davidson, Martine Frank, Gilles Peress, Alec Soth, Steve McCurry, Jean Gaumy, Stuart Franklin, and Harry Gruyaert just to name a few) this show offers a different read into each photographer.  Bodies of work are usually grouped together based on a time and place.  By extracting their “tree” images in reverse, the meaning behind a tree is now informed by their more famous bodies of work, covering refugees, religious rituals, and social injustices.

Bruce Davidson, "Boys Hanging On Trees At The Lake" Central Park, NYC.

As an example Bruce Davidson’s “Boys Hanging On A Tree In The Lake” could read as a happy picture of kids playing in a public park.  But when you consider his efforts in Harlem and his social awareness projects of inequality, the boys playing “carefree in Central Park” takes on new meaning.  Before Central Park was established, it was a shanty town of ex-slaves living on the edge of society.  Uptown was the wild west of New York City.  When the park was formally established, the homes and the people were forced north to Harlem.  These kids, were probably just playing in the water.  But Davidson was right to observe that in the simple gesture of hanging on a tree branch, they were taking back part of history and the park.  Almost every image in the show allows us to trace back through the photographers past and history to understand how connected we are to each other, our surroundings, and a collective history.

Closing Thoughts

If you are visiting New York and want a break from the tourist trap of Columbus Circle, this show is highly recommended.  Aside from making you next trip through the park more meaningful, the gallery has limited edition prints for sale for under than a thousand dollars.  All pretenses aside, the 25 CPW breathes new life into an area fat with commerce, but starved for culture.  Giving Trees actually delivers on its title, the show gives back more than it takes.  One part muse, one part role model, the wooden giants are wise beyond our years.

25 CPW

Website & Additional Information:

Address:  25 CPW on the corner of 62nd Street and Central Park West

Hours: 12-7 Pm Tuesday-Sunday, show runs until January 9th.


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