Center for Creative Photography

The new Alice Chaiten Baker Interdisciplinary Gallery at the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) allows us to dig deeper into how the medium of photography is truly interdisciplinary.

The exhibition, trees stir in their leaves, is a partnership between the arts and sciences, exploring photography as a tool in the seeing, remembering, understanding, communicating of trees.

With more than 75 images and objects assembled from CCP and the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research (LTRR) collections, trees stir in their leaves creates a multilayered experience with photography and dendrochronology (the study of annual rings in trees), beginning Feb. 5.

CCP and LTRR will stage installations together that follow historical, cultural, and scientific narratives inspired by trees.

Associate Curator Meg Jackson Fox discusses how the subject of trees became the subject of a CCP exhibition and what visitors might expect. 

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>> Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research

How did the subject of ‘trees’ become the focus of an exhibition? 

By chance, I was in conversation with a fellow at the Laboratory for Tree-Ring Research back in 2019, who mentioned that they had this incredible collection of never-before-exhibited photographs dating back prior to the founding of dendrochronology and the lab. I reached out to the curator at LTRR, Dr. Peter Brewer, and had long discussions about how dendrochronologists used photography as a tool in their studies of tree-rings, and how those uses have changed over time with the evolution of technology. Beginning to comb through LTRR’s scientific image collection at the same time as CCP’s artistic image collection of trees, patterns, and commonalities in the way in which we tell stories through trees surfaced. It was fascinating to discover how many photographers spent decades preoccupied with imaging trees, and how much it resonates with our communities today.

A scientific, artistic look at trees, Meg Jackson Fox headshot
A scientific, artistic look at trees, curated by Meg Jackson Fox.

How did CCP come to partner with the Tree-Ring Lab and why? 

CCP’s new Alice Chaiten Baker Interdisciplinary Gallery has served to center interdisciplinary studies through the lens of photography in an exciting and experimental way, and what is so enlivening about our collaboration with the Laboratory for Tree-Ring Research is the opportunity to cast light on a modern discipline rooted in the history of imaging technologies, most especially photography, and to dig deeper into how the medium of photography functions as a scientific tool and as an artistic instrument, both with hopes to extend seeing, remembering, understanding. What can we learn new about the medium most use almost daily when thinkers and creatives from every possible background are in conversation together? CCP’s partnership with LTRR is one of many such conversations we hope to have in and through the Baker Gallery.

What should visitors expect to see? (I’m guessing lots of images of trees.) 

Visitors will experience a unique layering of scientific and artistic images of trees from CCP & LTRR’s collections, together with historic optical technologies (including a large-scale “cycloscope”, invented by A.E. Douglass, the founder of LTRR and tree-ring studies), historic film footage, a newly made photomicrograph, wood samples, artists’ tree journals, and more. Because much of LTRR’s historical image collection are on sensitive lantern and kodachrome slides, CCP digitized, magnified, and printed selections from their image collection to display in the exhibition, yet we wanted to also show a handful of the original slides – including the most beautiful hand-painted lantern slides dating back to the early 20th century.

(University of Arizona scientist, Andrew (A.E.) Douglass, earned the reputation as the “father of dendrochronology.” He began building the cycloscope apparatus in 1913 to use tree-ring analysis to study the cycles of sunspot activity and how solar activity affects climate. Ninety years later, CCP employed Shaw Kinsley who had a master’s degree in the history of science from Oxford University. Kinsley studied the instrument and Douglass’ material at the State Museum and the University Special Collections, eventually presented his findings at the Scientific Instrument Symposium in Athens, Greece, in 2003.)

Why are you excited about this exhibition?

Gosh, so many reasons! I suppose topping the list was how many connections “trees” drew between our two collections and our greater communities. In the building of this installation, we connected with the Campus Arboretum; the Western National Parks Association and rangers at the Saguaro National Park; faculty in the School of Music and a recent alumna of the School of Theatre, Film, & Television; Tucson’s Living Street Alliance, Tucson Electric Power, the Mayor’s office, and so many more. All through a mutual interest in trees.