The City of New York Parks & Recreation is has announced the photography exhibition New York City of Trees by Benjamin Swett. Twenty-nine color portraits of trees around the five boroughs take the viewer up close to some of the extraordinary species that grow along the streets and in the parks, cemeteries, gardens, and backyards of the city. On view in the Arsenal Gallery from March 6 through April 26 (Arbor Day and Frederick Law Olmsted's birthday), the images have been selected from Swett's forthcoming book New York City of Trees, to be released by the Quantuck Lane Press on March 6.
After working at Parks for thirteen years, Swett left in 2001 to pursue a career as a freelance photographer but continued to photograph New York City's urban forest, fascinated by the connections between trees and the city's history. "We know that trees improve living conditions in cities by filtering and cooling the air, absorbing excess rainwater, and making neighborhoods more attractive," writes Swett. "But little has been said about the importance of trees as keepers of a city's past. The aim in taking these pictures-aside from taking the best photographs I could-was to try to bring back into focus an aspect of the city that most people tend to take for granted until something happens to it. The idea has been to remind New Yorkers how much of their own lives and the lives of neighbors these trees quietly contain."
"New York is a city of trees," said NYC Parks Commissioner Veronica M. White. "Benjamin Swett's love and knowledge of those trees is remarkable and it's a treat for Parks to host his show and give all New Yorkers a chance to share his artistry. And the fact that he is a former Parkie, makes this show even more special."
Among the trees photographed in this exhibition is an Osage Orange found at the Olmsted-Beil House in Staten Island, one of few remaining trees that Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central Park fame, planted before he moved to Manhattan in 1859 when he was "experimenting with the relationship of plants to the land." In another image, an American elm overlooks Harlem River Drive and the landmarked Highbridge-likely the stalwart from a row of newly planted 3-inch elms included on a park map from 1934 when Parks Commissioner Robert Moses renovated the Speedway. Swett documents a lopsided Silver Linden in Prospect Park on a rainy afternoon in October. Lindens became one of the most popular planting trees in New York parks since they offered a shaded respite from the sun's heat in the years before air conditioning.
"New York is a city built atop a forest. And in a forest, every tree has a story. As this wonderfully personal account of the trees of New York City amply demonstrates, the trees are still here, idiosyncratic, communicative, full of personality, standing for the ages with a resolute perseverance that does our forest-city proud," states Eric Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, and author of Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City. "Through Benjamin Swett's photographs and text, you will come to know your neighbors, make new friends, hear their tales, tell them yours, and expand your notion of what it means to be a New Yorker."