Bruce Barnbaum of Granite Falls, Washington, entered photography as a hobbyist in the 1960s. After 40 years, it is still his hobby; it has also been his life's work since 1970. He has taught workshops since 1972.
Barnbaum's educational background includes Bachelor's and Master's degrees in mathematics from UCLA in 1965 and 1967. After working for several years as a mathematical analyst and computer programmer for missile guidance systems, he abruptly left the field and turned to photography in late 1970.
I have dual goals for this exhibit: one artistic, the other educational. Trees have always fascinated me for their sheer magnificence, their variety, and the diversity of locations in which they grow. From the moment I began to photograph, trees were one of the subjects that I gravitated toward, both visually and emotionally. So, trees as photographic subject matter has been with me from the start. In my book, Tone Poems - Book 2, the closing section, or opus, is titled "Among the Trees," featuring 45 images of trees, some in this exhibit. I have found that trees are remarkable in virtually any type of lighting situation: from fog to bright sun, from dawn to dusk, from spring to summer to fall to winter, with leaves or without leaves, in whole or in detail.
Along the way, I have not only looked at, admired and photographed trees, I have learned a great deal about their extraordinary qualities and benefits. Loggers tend to see trees as wood. The thought is that if a tree has no value as wood - for furniture, construction, or any of a number of purely human uses - it has no value, whatsoever. The story of the Pacific Yew tree demolishes this viewpoint. The Pacific Yew tree, a generally scraggly conifer of the Pacific Northwest had no value for its wood - and therefore no value, whatever. Then it was discovered that a chemical in its bark, taxol, can be made into tamoxifen, which fights breast cancer. Suddenly, with a new human usage identified, the Pacific Yew tree went from the most useless tree in the forest to the most sought-after tree in the forest.
But all trees, whether they have value as wood or value as a cancer fighter produce oxygen in prodigious amounts. All trees purify water. Forests - even those on steep hillsides - moderate and slow catastrophic run-off from heavy rains or snow melts, often mitigating or even preventing catastrophic flooding. Trees provide habitat for any number of plant and animal species. Trees sequester carbon, and in today's world - except for those burying their heads in the sand on the issue of global warming - that is of enormous value. I can go on and on about the unseen benefits of trees, but the point is that even if we ignore direct or obvious human uses entirely, trees are essential to life as we know it.
Worldwide, we are destroying our forests. We have been doing this with ever-increasing efficiency for thousands of years. It's almost unimaginable today to recognize the simple phrase, "Cedars of Lebanon," for we can hardly picture Lebanon as a land covered with cedar trees. Ninety-five percent of the original rainforest that covered the Pacific Northwest from Northern California to Alaska, has been logged off since Europeans came to the region. The remaining five percent exists primarily in isolated preserves. Today we are gutting the Amazon rainforest, the Central African rainforest, the Canadian and Siberian boreal forests, and the rainforests of the southeast Asian islands. In the process we are gutting a vast number both plants and animals, and in the long run, ourselves.
My hope is that in viewing these images, the viewer will see more than a group of 20 black and white photographs. My hope is that you will see some artistry in the way I have viewed the forests, and also you will see through the photographs to the real message that silent trees cannot convey themselves. Trees cannot trumpet their importance. Humans can learn about their importance. Humans can also learn how to live with and work with and love and respect and preserve trees for what they are. Humans have the intelligence to do this. The question is: do humans have the wisdom and the will to do this?