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The Daily Plant : Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"New York City Of Trees Photographs By Benjamin Swett" On View In The Arsenal Gallery


The photography exhibition New York City of Trees by Benjamin Swett today opened to the public at the Arsenal Gallery. 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 at the Arsenal Gallery from March 6 through April 26 (Arbor Day and Frederick Law Olmsted’s birthday), the images were selected from Swett’s forthcoming book New York City of Trees, to be released today by the Quantuck Lane Press.

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 High Bridge—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.

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.

This project was partially funded through a grant from Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, with additional support from the City Parks Foundation.

The Arsenal Gallery is dedicated to examining themes of nature, urban space, wildlife, New York City parks, and park history. It is located on the third floor of the NYC Parks & Recreation headquarters, in Central Park, on Fifth Avenue at 64th Street. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for holidays. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.nyc.gov/parks/art or call 212-360-8163.

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