In Training, photographs of bonsai trees
June 28, 2016 2:45 PM   Subscribe

In Training, photographs of bonsai trees [via mefi projects]

"A few years ago, I began photographing bonsai trees as a personal project. Fast forward two years later, I have a beautifully-designed book of my photos I'd love to share. I wasn't sure why, but I felt a deep, visceral connection to these ancient trees. The bonsai, themselves, seemed the very opposite of the subjects I usually photographed - they stood before me fully present, their sense of time measured in decades, even centuries. From my first glimpse of the trees all those years ago, I knew implicitly that there was something to be learned from them, from their endurance and quiet dignity."
posted by holmesian (9 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Gorgeous!!! The Guardian recently had a piece on Ryan Neil and Bonsai Mirai in Portland. I want one reaaaallly badly... but my house is the gay dude's equivalent of Bag End, cozy but not really suited to plants.
posted by helmutdog at 3:19 PM on June 28, 2016

Waiting for a cloud seems so apropos for bonsai photography.
posted by srboisvert at 3:43 PM on June 28, 2016

I kind of feel sorry for bonsai trees and wince when I see them. Does anyone else feel this way?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:58 PM on June 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

There's no reason to feel sorry for bonsai. If you understand how each tree species forms new buds, you can prune them and do no more harm than occurs in nature (where deer, wind, hail, and insects do the pruning). I will point out to helmutdog that almost no-one's house is suitable for bonsai. They belong outside (with a few exceptions such as figs). I used to be an online "bonsai doctor" and 95% of my queries were about junipers kept inside and please why were they dying? Answer: because they are inside.
posted by acrasis at 6:25 PM on June 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

posted by BlueHorse at 6:54 PM on June 28, 2016

You're not the only one, Joe in Australia. I also find espaliered apple trees distressing.
posted by Beti at 7:39 PM on June 28, 2016

Love the magical, fantasy, Roger Dean look of bonsai but, yes, I do feel a little sorry for them because it seems as though they are tortured — kept eternally hovering at the edge between life and death.

Although beautiful, the videos are also annoying because they never reveal the whole tree instead dwelling on all the details before revealing the whole tree. I'd prefer seeing a master shot and something to give a sense of scale before delving into the minutia.
posted by bz at 8:37 PM on June 28, 2016

I kind of feel sorry for bonsai trees and wince when I see them. Does anyone else feel this way?

The Dr. Who Seeds of Doom had a B-villain who was enraged that no one was stopping the ongoing torture of plants that was bonsai. He ended up siding with the A-list villain, an alien plant-thing, and trying to destroy the human race. So him too!

More seriously, I get the sentiment but the trees are so beautiful and growing them is such an investment in creating something living and beautiful--I love them. Never owned one but if I'd did I feel far worse about one of my calatheas I let get too much sunlight and has burned leaves right now.
posted by mark k at 9:25 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone for the kind comments. One of the many things that's amazing when you start learning about these trees is the role the bonsai master plays in creating them. The trees can survive for hundreds of years and so a master's work will often outlive them, passing them onto the next generation of bonsai masters.

It's pretty humbling to think your life's work will continue to grow and be changed by someone else. There's something very optimistic about it, too. The afterword for the book was written by bonsai master Michael Hagedorn (author of Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk) and he closes his own book by saying:

All art is a proxy for something else. And I feel that a bonsai [...] is at least a proxy for our hopes of the future, as a post-dated love letter.
posted by steve.wdc at 11:20 AM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

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