“Only with a leaf can I talk of the forest”
It was a typical Alaskan winter; white. I was tired of photographing white. As a respite from all the snow, I went to the municipal greenhouse in a city park in Anchorage. This is where the city grows all the flowers and plants that they place around town in the spring. It was warm and green and they were more than happy to let me wander around with a tripod and camera.
That was many years ago. Although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the beginning of this project. It wasn’t until recently that I became interested in plant leaves again, which started with the rhubarb leaves in our backyard. Something about the shapes within the leaves caught my attention but ultimately it was the relationships between the leaves that I found most interesting. It would be easy to anthropomorphize these relationships: one leaf covering another as if to protect it or two leaves in a loving embrace. The truth is that for me it’s mostly visual. The shapes that are created when one leaf wraps around another. The way the light recedes as we look further into the plant, revealing a hint of more in the shadows.
Early in the project someone asked me the names of some of the plants. At first I was embarrassed that I didn’t know all of them. Then it dawned on me; I’m not a botanist. Taxonomy isn’t the point. I’m much more interested in the poetry, so I gave myself permission to put the science aside and concentrate on the visual.
The more I’ve worked on this project, the more I realize that paying attention to the details is the best way to understand the whole. By concentrating on leaves I have a greater appreciation of the whole ecosystem. What happens at the micro level is just a mirror of the macro. As someone in Greece once said to me; “Watch the leptas and the drachmas will take care of themselves.”
As a recovering commercial photographer specializing in advertising and public relations, Alan Sanders now concentrates on fine art photography. He leads workshops at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, WA. and is a digital imaging specialist at Quicksilver Photo Lab in Bellingham. Visit him at AlanSandersArt.com
If we take care of the leaves, we’ll always have the forest.