Benjamin Swett "New York City of Trees"

Arsenal Gallery

poster for Benjamin Swett "New York City of Trees"

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The City of New York Parks & Recreation presents the photography exhibition New York City of Trees by Benjamin Swett. Twenty-eight 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.”

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.”

Benjamin Swett is a New York-based photographer with a particular interest in combining photographs with text. His books include New York City of Trees (2013), The Hudson Valley: A Cultural Guide (2009), Route 22 (2007), and Great Trees of New York City: A Guide (2000). The former director of the Parks in Print program here at NYC Parks, Mr. Swett produced more than 40 illustrated books, brochures and annual reports during 13 years at the Parks Department and the City Parks Foundation. He teaches photography at Wave Hill, the public garden and cultural center in the Bronx, and lives in Manhattan with his wife and sons.

[Image: Benjamin Swett "Silver Linden" Prospect Park, October 15, 2009]



from March 06, 2013 to April 26, 2013

Opening Reception on 2013-03-06 from 18:00 to 20:00


Benjamin Swett

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