Y O K O K A N A Y A M A
Regarding Yoko Kanayama's Urban Forestry, I have trouble fathoming whether it's the subject or the treatment that makes this body of work so resonant for me. I reside in the same city as Kanayama, and I share her fascination with ficus trees (although her work has intensified my interest). Los Angeles, at least that greater part of L.A. miles from the ocean's edge, is plagued by an excess of blinding sunlight that leaves most of us squinting too often. For this reason, we welcome the shade of trees, the leafier the better. But the once imported ficus trees that have done best with little water and care have also wreaked the most damage to our urban infrastructure—from power and sewer lines to the pavement at our feet.
Living in a neighborhood of narrow lots with houses crowded cheek-by-jowl, I've experienced first-hand the deep-rooted conflicts caused by trees. I consider a ficus planted long ago beside our house a major asset, for it has now grown so large that it shades half our roof. However, this overhead expansion is mirrored underground. After two years of weathering hostile comments from a grumpy neighbor that "our" focus tree was ruining his driveway, I felt compelled to respond. Unwilling to cave completely to the demand that I take it down, I opted for half measures, although there was no economy in directing the tree cutters to try and save most of the tree by digging deep to remove only those roots that traveled toward the adjacent property. So far the tree has survived this surgery, and the neighbor is temporarily placated that something was done to arrest the continued buckling of his driveway. Still, we both know that this is a stopgap solution: if the tree continues to flourish, its wayward roots surely will extend his way again, provoking more antagonism. To travesty Robert Frost's memorable line about New England fences, good roots make for bad neighbors.
Aside from this personal investment in the hardy ficus, I am just as impressed with the visual means Kanayama devised to address this divisive issue, offering us diverse urban views in which we can consider either the trees as survivors, or the urban scene—and in each instance demarcating what may be lost in such an either-or resolution. On numerous occasions I have written about montage practices, but as I continue to study photography I realize that my habitual preference is for straight views. I've never much liked visual embellishments to photographs, be they hand coloring or the more recent (and increasingly common) Photoshop variety. But Kanayama's intervention is subtractive rather than additive, graphically posing the dilemma or whether we are more inclined to sacrifice the trees or urban order. Either way, her pictures are filled with large, irregular, ghostly gray traces of those lively elements at stake in this battle for predominance.
Return to HER FIRST METEORITE: VOLUMES 1 AND 2