/07 Trees

Christopher Woodcock

The Desert Prophets

The images in this series are portraits of Yucca Brevifollia, more commonly known as the Joshua tree, a symbol of the Mojave desert of South Eastern California. The Joshua tree portraits expand on my interest in the way that physical landscapes and species can shape cultural imagination. The presence of Joshua trees evoke the spirit and mystery of the Mojave Desert. To the Mormon pioneers who named them at the midpoint of their long journey from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, the appearance of these desert trees with upraised branches was a welcome sight; conjuring the prophet Joshua, beckoning them to the promised land. Approaching each Joshua tree as an individual character, I wanted to create a series of portraits that reflect the range of forms of these strange and gnarled oddities and their unique environmental adaptations. Photographing this series at night allowed me to collapse the panoramic space of the daytime desert, and to selectively isolate each tree against the dark curtain of night. I painted each figure with a series of strobe flashes giving each tree a sense of dimension and possession of human morphology. Dancing, swaying, and bending with arms outstretched into the currents of the wind, it is hard to fathom that these guardians of the vast open space between Los Angeles and Las Vegas are at a tipping point; that in fact they may disappear into the void of night.