Unrest in the Forest

“There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas.”
And the oaks ignore their pleas.”

Doing Something: As a young professor, I learned that I would be eligible for retirement, with full benefits, at age 50. That then became my plan. Well, the reality of life, family, and the real world have put 50 well into the rear view mirror and retirement still a few years out. All along the planning process, my intrepid and wonderful wife has been steadfast in her advice that as retirement approaches, I must find something else to do. In her words, “you have to do something!” While I like the argument that nothing is indeed something, she is, of course, correct. I have several somethings in mind, one of which is the main photographic/color project for my planned sabbatical, the tree project.

The Tree Project: The tree project is a little bit color science, a little bit photography, and an homage to Henry David Thoreau. The concept is simple. I have taken a liking to photographing individual leaves, close up, and transilluminated (the only light coming through the leaf itself). The memory is foggy, but I believe the inspiration for the initial photographs came from the Leaf Print Project by photographer Paul Rogers (an RIT alumnus). The colors and details are fascinating and the survival-inspired translucency of the leaves is highlighted. The project involves identifying a representative selection of locally-native trees, collecting a typical leaf example from each once per month for the entire growing season, photographing the transilluminated leaves in a custom-built illuminator, analyzing their color, and creating a book. The book will include the seasonal progression of leaf color for each species as well as a visual/graphical color analysis that places the leaves in the Munsell color order system by hue, value, and chroma as the season progresses.  Hence the working title “The Munsell Leaves of Mendon”.

Timeline: The first step has been to design and construct a more permanent and repeatable illumination system to allow accurate collection of images and color data across time. The nearly final prototype has already been completed (perhaps a subject for a future blog entry) and the accompanying photo is the first test image of a mid-summer leaf from a river birch. I will spend the next three academic years in detailed planning of the project and scouting for the example trees (perhaps 15-20 in total) while making test images as I go. I will then have a sabbatical year in 2022-23 during which I will complete the main data and image collection since I would prefer all the images to be from a single vintage, most likely 2023. In the following year or two, I will complete the colorimetric analysis, writing, layout, and editing of the book, which will be published electronically for free and perhaps made available as a printed version at the cost of printing. It will be a contribution to color science, to naturalism, and to the spirit of the work Henry David Thoreau started in the 19th century.

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”
–Henry David Thoreau

Next up; a message to myself.