Anna Beeke: Sylvania

Anna Beeke: Sylvania


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Across cultures and centuries, the forest has occupied a unique place in our collective imagination. Sylvania , by Brooklyn-based photographer Anna Beeke (born 1984), explores the intersection of nature, imagination and myth in the American woodlands, from Washington to Vermont to Louisiana.

Anna Beeke is a documentary and fine arts photographer born in Washington, DC, and based in Brooklyn, NY. She has an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in Photography, Video, and Related Media (2013) and a Certificate from the International School of Photography in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography (2009), as well as a BA in English from Oberlin College (2007). Anna’s work has been exhibited internationally. Anna has received such honors as the 2012 Humble Arts and WIP-LTI/Lightside Materials Grant, the 2013 APA/EP Education Grant, the Alice-Beck Odette Scholarship and Alumni Scholarship Award from the School of Visual Arts, and the 2012 Film Grant from Kodak + too much chocolate. She was selected as a participant in th Eddie Adams Workshop 2009. Most recently, she was selected for Magenta's Flash Forward 2013. Anna is represented by Uprise Art.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781942084051
Publisher: Daylight Books
Publication date: 10/27/2015
Pages: 132
Product dimensions: 10.20(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Type of Excerpt: Contributing Text and Acknowledgments

by Anna Beeke
with words by Brian Doyle

You could walk
into the woods
anywhere, any sort
• f woods, every
sort of woods, and
you would be a
different animal
within ten steps,
as soon as the
woods accepted
you, as soon as
you couldn’t hear
anything else but
the woods. We
forget that the
woods are always
there waiting. We
are afraid of the

woods and we
love the woods
and we used
to live in the
woods and some
part of us is still
fascinated and
frightened and
absorbed and
and yearning
secretly for
the woods. I
suppose there
will always be
woods in us
somehow until
there are no
more woods or

no more us. We came
from them as if from
a tangled green sea
and the parts of us
that are still mammal
are most comfortable
there. We forget we
are mammals. You
could walk into the
woods anywhere
and you would be
different within a
minute or two –
rattled, happier,
muddier, cautious,
more alert, home in
some way for which
we do not yet have an
excellent green word.

The densest place I have ever been in my whole life is deep in the woods here. One time I
stood on what I thought was a small hillock but it turned out to be duff ten feet deep. There
was a rumor of cougar. Of course it was raining. Of course it was. I sat down for a while
and thought about all the languages that were being spoken and had been spoken in this
• ne moist incredible place in the world, all the creatures of every kind who had lived here
• r passed through this space, the uncountable insects, the children, the young ones of every
species. Had they gaped too, at the pillars of the trees, the bear print, the murmur of owls?

One of my six
brothers fell in love
with wood right from
the start. I remember
him handling and
fondling wood
even when he was
little. He spoke the
language of it. He
and wood liked each
• ther and got along
swell. He became a
forester and planted
trees, hundreds of
thousands of trees.
Do you know you
can plant a tree in
five seconds if you
get your stride right
and reach with one

hand and poke a
hole in the skin of
the earth and reach
up for the seedling
from your pack
with the other and
drop the seedling
and secure it in the
hole with your foot
as you continue on
apace? You can do
that. In some places
the woods are taking
• ver where farms
used to be. That
is happening in
Vermont and Maine.
When the woods
come back so do
animals that were
thought long gone,
like fisher and lion.

All the rest of his
life my brother has
worked with wood.
He built houses and
beds and chairs and
tables and desks
and cabinets and
counters and lovely
long curving tavern
bars and pretty
much anything else
you can imagine
you could persuade
from wood. In his
wood-shop there are
chunks of twenty
kinds of wood.

One time I asked
him what he was
going to do with a
particularly weighty
chunk and he said
he was waiting for
the wood to tell him
what it wanted to
be. I think about
that remark a lot
and always come
away refreshed by
the respect and
humility in it. More
and more these days
I think humility is
the final frontier.
We spend many
years building ego
and then if we are
lucky we realize
we need to cut it
down and saw it
up and turn it into
something shy.

Q: Do trees think and feel?

A: Of course not, not in any way that we know the words think and feel. But that’s the point, isn’t it? I suggest that they consider and ponder and absorb and apprehend the world in very different ways than we do, and we do not quite understand the verb of their lives. We think of them as nouns, stationary, serene, placid, substantive, stolid, stern; but imagine if you could absorb nutrition from the very earth with your intricate spidery toes. Imagine that you could eat light and sip clouds. Imagine if you too lived to be five thousand years old, like bristlecone pines, or were four hundred feet tall, like redwoods, or weighed a thousand tons, like sequoias, or spent your life on a ridge above the lithe Wilson River as it made its way toward mother Ocean. How does the tree perceive the river? Like an ouzel that never stops singing? How does the tree consider its companions? Do their roots tangle and tease? What do they feel? Because we cannot understand how they could feel, does that mean that they do not feel? If you do not know a thing, does that mean the thing is impossible? No? Well, then…

When I was a little kid
I thought that lakes
were like huge blue and
green and brown eyes in
the forest, and once in

a while, even now, all
these years later, when
I achieve childishness
again, fitfully and
delightedly – I still do.

No one more admires what it is we do with wood. We build schools and chapels and churches and houses and homes and cabins and sheds and bridges and roads and trails and paths and desks and bars and barrels and buckets and shingles and shakes and boxes and rinks and frames and steps and stairs and crosses and crucifixes and boats and ships and carts and wagons and hoops and bows and arrows and roofs and bins and shims and coffins and I could continue this sentence for a week. But probably you are like me, and every once in a while, when you see a pile of logs, they look awfully like corpses, don’t they? Just for an instant? And so they are.

I think we are absorbed by forests and woods and thickets and copses and wilderness in general because shadows and flickering light are dangerous and alluring and mysterious. There are stories in the shadows, in the forest, flitting through the trees. How many legends and fables and myths are set in the forest? The forest is where possible lives. The forest is beyond the reach of sense and reason. The forest is not a place for logic and culture and civilized opinion. The forest is ancient and itself. The forest is hidden life and deeper secrets. Anything might live there and probably does and the only way to find out is to slip in beneath the eaves and vanish into it in exactly the same way you vanish into a story.

As a species, said the late great Peter Matthiessen once, we are just down from the trees. We used to live in the trees. We forget that. We came down from the trees and out onto the savannah and we are still afraid of death. We are still filled with fear. That’s why we are so violent. We lash out. What if our moral evolution ever caught up to our astounding physical evolution? What then?

The biggest tree I ever
saw personally myself, on
foot, not from the road
with other sightseers and
erudite rangers and park
authorities, was a spruce
• n the Oregon coast. You
wouldn’t believe how fat
and tall this tree was. It
was so much bigger than
your house that your house
would quail a little if they
were on the bus together. It
had been measured, and its
weight and age estimated,
and it had been entered in
registers of huge trees, and it
was sort of famous, I guess,
but I am here to tell you that
numbers slid off this thing
like small vulgar jokes. This
sylvan creature – for creature
it was, alive and sentient and
digesting sun from above
and minerals from below and
water from the mist – was so
big that when people saw it
for the first time they went
silent. How people looked
when they saw it for the first
time is what we mean when
we say awe, it seems to me.

I try to never forget that trees are
verbs always headed up. They
yearn, they elevate, they rise,
they ascend, they have a major
sun jones, they set their feet and
then jump verrrrrrrrrrrry slowly,
like the tallest slenderest toughest
rough-skinned quietest basketball
players you ever saw.

You can’t stop the wonder with which people
gawk and gape at trees. Even if you know there
are no trees beyond the fringe, even if you are
absolutely sure of that, even if there’s nothing
there but the awful battlefield detritus of a
clear-cut, you drive along through the trees
that are there, gazing at them with respect and
awe and affection. They are our cousins, our
teammates, our ancient teachers. You can learn
a great deal about fit and peace and endurance
and dignity and patience from trees.

I have.

Bringing a first book to fruition requires a great deal of support and encouragement, and I am filled with incalculable gratitude toward all the wonderful people who have helped make this possible. I am deeply grateful to Brian Doyle for his words – for seeing what I am trying to express in my own medium, and for giving it a complementary form in his. Further, I would like to thank him for writing the bewitching novel Mink River, which I picked up on San Juan Island in the early stages of shooting Sylvania and which became an unexpected muse in my search for the magical undercurrents of reality. For insight and guidance along the way, I am particularly indebted to Elisabeth Biondi, Elinor Carruci, Marvin Heiferman, Andrew Moore, Gus Powell, Charles Traub, Kiki Bauer, Bonnie Yochelson, and my peers at the School of Visual Arts. Thank you for your candid critique and inspiration. For supporting the creation of this body of work and its transformation into a book, I am infinitely thankful to the following individuals and institutions:
Humble Arts Foundation and LTI/ Lightside, the School of Visual Arts and the SVA Alumni Society, Uprise Art, American Photographic Artists, Douglas Drysdale, Mary Drysdale, Martha Peters, Howard Chua-Eon, Rob Lancefield, Hanna and Jacob Kaufman, Giorgio Furioso, David Carmen, Aidan Joseph, Dov Harel, Torre Johnson, Maxwell Mackenzie and Rebecca Cross, Suzanne Resnick, Peter J. Cohen, John Keon, Amy McIntosh and Jeffrey Toobin, Mary Schmidt, Kaye and Bob Wertz, Michael Dabney, Jim McCarthy, Etan Fraiman, and all the many, many others who pitched in. For your technical savvy, thank you Blake Ogden. For your persistent love and patience, thank you to my exceptional friends and family. I am particularly grateful to Granddad, Aunt Mary, Leeor, Alia, Corina, Hayley, my annisa family, and of course my wonderful parents – who have unflaggingly encouraged my every whim, and who inadvertently inspired this arboreal adventure. And finally, to Michael, Taj, and Ursula of Daylight, without whom this book would still be a mere dream – I am forever indebted and eternally grateful for your belief in Sylvania and for bringing it to life so beautifully.

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