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Tree of Life

This assignment ran from Apr 3 to Apr 24, 2015.

Tree: noun \ˈtrē\ A usually tall plant that has a thick, wooden stem and many large branches. —Merriam Webster

Trees have been on the Earth for 370 million years, and the majority of people see one on a daily basis. The importance of trees is rarely debated. Culture, religion, and art around the world have venerated trees since the beginning of time. Scientists often say that photosynthesis is one the most important chemical reactions occurring on Earth. Trees stabilize Earth’s climate, provide a habitat for many animals, and produce wood, and they can even can provide ingredients for drugs that fight disease and illness.

For me, trees provide a place of solitude, respite, and healing.
They also reflect the unknown and otherworldly. Trees are sages. A photograph of a tree will appear in some way or another in the majority of my projects. They reflect the mood of the landscape and the culture I'm in, and they also become reflections of myself.

For this assignment I want you to photograph what the Tree of Life means to you, to your community, to your culture, to your world. There are no specific technical guidelines, as I want the images to be free to take whatever form they will. However, I want you, as the photographer, to ponder a few suggestions before you begin.

- Become silent in order to listen.
- Slow down.
- Visit the same tree on different days, in different light, among various activities, and during different hours.
- Get close, climb, sit below or on top, and move far away.
- Let your perspective change by moving yourself and not the zoom of your lens.

Remember: It's inevitable that something that has been around as long as trees will teach us. This assignment is about looking, becoming silent, listening, learning, and teaching. That which reflects us also reflects our world. Let your trees be a mirror for your world.

Curated by:

Erika Larsen
National Geographic Photographer
Assignment Status
  • Open

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  • Closed

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  • Published

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Published May 1, 2015.
Thank you for your contributions!

Follow Your Instincts

Posted apr 21, 2015

I want to start by saying that I had no idea this community would take this assignment to the depths that you have. What has surprised me the most is the written word this has inspired. You have shared personal stories and thoughts, journal entries, environmental outreach and conservation ideas, dreams and memories, hopes and fears.

What did not surprise me and what I'm most proud of is that, as a group, you have created visual poetry. Thank you for allowing me to participate in this journey—it has touched me deeply.

We are in the final stretch of the assignment, with just two days left. This is the time to let all your reservations and fears go.
Take pictures with a freedom from failure.
Follow your instincts.
Follow your heart.
Don’t over think your final submission.
Let the tree of life inspire you.

Believe in Your Image

Posted apr 16, 2015

As we are well into our second week the images continue to amaze me. I have literally been transported to some of the most unique places on Earth. I'm dually impressed with the different perspectives and interpretations that people have taken to illustrate the Tree of Life assignment. I encourage you all, if you have not already, to take the time to look through your peers' work. I can promise that you'll be inspired and humbled and taken on a journey.

I also want to commend those who have chosen to make this assignment very personal. So many images appear to be reflections of the image maker and, at the same time, universal. Also, many of the captions read like poems, as people have expressed layers of thought. I want to say how much I appreciate this honesty and openness.

My hope was to encourage this type of discovery, and I have not been disappointed. With about seven days left I want everyone to thoughtfully consider what they will submit for the final week. For those who may be new to the assignment or who have not submitted yet, do not just post a picture of a tree because you have it or because you passed a tree that day and want to fulfill a submission. I want the next week of submissions to be unique expressions and interpretations of this assignment. I want to see something I haven't seen yet before. I want to be transported to your world.

Here are some quick thoughts to keep in mind when shooting this final week:

- Sometimes there is so much perfection in the imperfection. Remember this when composing and exposing.

- Within simplicity we can see complexity.

- We are all unique, and our pictures should be as well.

- We can all stare at the same tree and we will all see it through different eyes.

- What is most important is that you the photographer believe in the image you're making. Once you believe in it, let it go, let it take on a life of its own, and let the world relate to it how they will. This is the beauty of storytelling to me.

Trying Something New

Posted apr 9, 2015

I am so amazed and impressed at how many people have already submitted. This is wonderful.

I see a tremendous range of interpretation in this assignment so far, and that was exactly what I was looking for. I'm most struck by images that create wonder and bring me to another world, more specifically to “your world.” I find that several of the images I was drawn to were not even physical trees but patterns or compositions that mimicked a tree, so naturally clever.

There is one thing I really want to encourage. I see many of you have gone into your archive and shown me an interpretation of this assignment with work you already have. This is great. However, I want to extend this as an opportunity to create new work. You have a little under three weeks left. Take your camera and your wonderment and create, interact, experience, and translate the language of your world through the trees.

On a more aesthetic note: Feel your lighting folks.

I want to see more magic!

Erika Larsen

Erika Larsen

National Geographic Photographer
Erika Larsen’s work uses photography, video and writing to learn
 intimately about cultures that maintain strong connections with nature. She has been working as a magazine photographer since 2000 specializing in 
human-interest stories and sensitive cultural issues and is a contributing photographer to National Geographic Magazine. Her work has been included in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery,
 National Geographic Society, The Swedish Museum of Ethnography and Ajtte Sámi Museum. Her first monograph, Sami-Walking With Reindeer, was released in 2013.