‘A tree is like an old friend’

Photographer captures favourite trees of prominent Torontonians for exhibit

One provides shade over some tombstones in a cemetery.

Another dwarfs a house on Bellevue Avenue.

Prominent Torontonians’ favourite trees is the theme for a series of 16 portraits on exhibit at the Side Space Gallery until August 12.

The photos, shot by local photographer Vincenzo Pietropaolo, are accompanied by descriptions written by their famous admirers.

The project was put together by Local Enhancement & Appreciation of Forests (LEAF) to bring awareness to Toronto’s urban forest, said organization founder Janet McKay.

“Trees make our cities so much more livable,” she says, citing shade, air purification and storm water retention as examples. “We have to share our neighbourhoods with the trees if we want to get those benefits that they provide.”

Favourite trees photographed include a Ginko (Adrienne Clarkson), a Norway Maple (Matt Galloway), a Willow (Vincent Lam) and an Ironwood, (D’bi Young, who even wrote a poem about his favourite tree).

Pietropaolo says his love for trees encouraged him to take on this project.

“There’s something spiritual about, especially older, trees,” says the North Toronto resident. “A tree is like an old witness, and old friend. It’s always standing there, it’s always looking at everything.”

Pietropaolo said trees help residents interact with their neighbourhoods – children play under them, people find solace in their shade – and provide beauty, tranquility and serenity.

“Trees inspire people to reflect on a lot of things and sometimes I wonder why,” he says. “Maybe because they are so still and always there for you whenever you want to visit.”

Pietropaolo says he jumped at the opportunity to look at trees through someone else’s eyes, seeing details he may not have noticed on his own. Atom Egoyan’s favourite tree seems to cup the CN Tower with its branches if viewed from a certain angle, he says.

The project took a year to complete, and some trees were shot several times, and in different seasons.

Pietropaolo chose to shoot the cherry blossoms in High Park during the winter, not during their bloom in the springtime. He says he tried to capture their infrequently seen winter serenity.

He also chose some photos to be black and white, to force the eye to examine the texture of the bark of the tree rather than get distracted by colours in the background.

Pietropaolo says he makes these decisions consciously, composing each shot, something that can become hard due to the easy and infinite shooting made possible by digital cameras.

To capture quality images, photographers need to learn about arts, literature and poetry, says Pietropaolo.

“You can learn, in a few weeks, everything you know about a camera,” he says. “But it will take you a few years to learn enough literature to inspire you to take pictures.”

Pietropaolo has photographed migrant workers, and captured images of immigrant life in Canada. The tree project gave him an opportunity to give recognition to a different life, he says.

“I do hope it creates a lot of awareness about our unsung residents of the city.”

Toronto Tree Portraits runs until Aug. 12. Side Space Gallery, 1080 St. Clair Ave. West. www.sidespacegallery.com.

About this article:

By: Alina Smirnova
Posted: Jul 29 2010 4:21 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto