Photographing the Amos Alonzo Stagg Tree, a giant sequoia in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains
What happens when you want to take a picture of a landscape or an object bigger than your field of view? Photographic technology has consistently sought to remedy the problem through the use of fisheye or wide-angle lenses. Many of today’s digital cameras have panoramic settings, but sometimes it’s just not enough to capture the magnitude of a large subject. When James Balog wanted to take a picture of the Stagg Tree, the fifth largest tree in the world, he was faced with a big challenge. His solution relied on his mountaineering skills. He repelled through the forest every 15 feet or so moving the camera to different vantage points in order to produce a photo mosaic of the 242 ft tall giant sequoia. The total image, assembled from the 451 individual photographs he shot marks the first time Stagg can be seen in detail and in its entirety.
A single image produced from many smaller photographs, photo mosaics are an important tool for researchers and scientists. They expand the limits of human vision and often serve as maps of sites impossible to fully comprehend in any other way. Many scientists have used the technique for undersea and space exploration. In recent years, NASA has directed the Curiosity Rover to produce stunning photomosaics of the surface of Mars.
James Balog (American, b. 1952) is a photographer, environmentalist, and climate activist. His photographs blend art and science by documenting the impact human activities are having on the natural world. He is the founder and president of Earth Vision Institute and Extreme Ice Survey. Both organizations seek to raise the public’s awareness of environmental issues by investigating change over time. Balog was the U.S./NASA representative at the 2009 United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 15) in Copenhagen. In addition, working on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), he made several presentations at COP 21 (Paris, 2015).
“For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches—and I recall that at first photographic implements were related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision: cameras, in short, were clocks for seeing, and perhaps in me someone very old still hears in the photographic mechanism the living sound of the wood.”
― Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
Photography is a versatile medium that enables the documentation of events and places in ways that transcend the limits of human perception. Cameras allow us to see objects in minute detail and from unusual vantage points. A typical lens-based photo captures a single point in time with a single viewpoint. When producing a photo mosaic collage, suddenly there are multiple points of view through time. It took James Balog 4 hours to take all the individual photos used in Giant Sequoia, Stagg and even longer to assemble them.
Can you produce a photomosaic?
Create a photomosaic that documents a journey, a passage of time, or a thing you can’t see all at once. Assemble your images digitally or physically.
1. Document a journey from one space to another. Is there a story being told?
2. Photograph a place or object over a specific span of time. How can you assemble the images to show the passage of time?
3. Pick a three-dimensional object. Photograph the front, back, top, bottom and sides and combine them into a two-dimensional image.
1. How is a photograph like a memory?
2. Does a camera see more clearly than your own eyes?
3. Often people think photos are facts. Can a photograph lie?
About the exhibition:
The Art of Trees reveals the many resonances, forms, and relationships of trees. Exploring themes of restoration and destruction, community and isolation, location and identity, and fragile temporalities, the artists featured in the exhibition experiment with a range of mediums, and even use trees as creative collaborators to express our essential and inseparable bond with these guardians of the earth.
About Near & Far:
Contemporary art often pushes physical, intellectual, and societal boundaries. It has the power to affect change and expand understanding. In that spirit, we have been working to make remote experiences with our exhibitions ever more accessible. Near & Far offers you a new way of engaging with the Gund Gallery through a series of virtual experiences, programs, exhibition activations, and online artist-in-residence interactions.
The Gund Gallery exhibitions and programs are made possible, in part, by the Gund Gallery Board of Directors and the Ohio Arts Council.
Images, top to bottom:
James Balog, Giant Sequoia, Stagg, 2001. Chromogenic print on Crystal Archive, 93 x 35.75 inches. Gund Gallery Collection; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Graham Gund ’63, 2015.2.2.
Curiosity’s Path to the ‘Sulfate-Bearing Unit,’ July 6, 2020. Taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover MastCam, courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.