I first saw this line of figures while driving to the hospital through a snowstorm for the birth of a grandchild. Though my vision was blurred, something had pulled me in. I returned the next day with my camera and for many days thereafter, through winter storms and daily variations in light.
With successive visits, the bulky forms began to emerge through my lens as recognizable figures. Under heavy ice, they huddled together in the cold. In strong wind, I felt them struggle to stand up. Like bloated monsters, they bobbed and swayed above me. I heard their cries and anxious thoughts and felt their solitude within the universe, their heroic stance against the moving clouds, their fears of dying and of death. They were becoming my people.
I began to make their portraits. Initially, I did not betray their hidden secrets or the tender growth occurring beneath their burlap "skin." Yet, weeks later, their insides began to push against and protrude from their wrappings. I made more portraits, revealing the delicate lacework of their undergarments branching off a strong central column. Gradually, I allowed their new growth to be seen in the full dimensionality of life.
Yes, they are trees, simple, tall, slender arbor vitae, lined up along an Illinois highway and draped for the winter in a protective burlap covering. But they are not just that. As we look at them, we come to understand that what we are seeing is and is not what it might seem to be, but multi-layered and reflective of who we are.
I hope these images will call up our deeper feelings, reminding us that we are, in many ways, wrapped and bound, without eyes that see or mouths that speak, and often helpless, hopeless, and frozen in our own space. Yet, as the sun warms our surfaces, we too push toward growth, extending our limbs through our coverings, revealing our new growth.
Viewers often ask me what I photographed, perhaps with the hope of finding themselves on more solid ground as they try to understand what they see. I invite them to bypass that urge and to play with what comes to mind. Their responses have been surprising and wildly diverse, including visions of "epic heroes," "praying monks," "a Greek chorus," "seductive women," "mythical creatures," or "scary monsters" who stir our imaginations and call up our hidden selves.
In this photographic series, we have the possibility of recognizing something about who we are. We bring to the images what we are feeling and what we choose to know about ourselves. These images are my voice in a dialogue about our humanity and about our capacity to see more deeply.