I have been working on this project for several years now, imagining different ways to approach its realization. In this conceptually and logistically complex project, I would like to followed the three stages of the growth of trees – the fruit set stage, the exfoliation stage and the bloom stage.
While forming this project in my mind, I made two decisions: the first was to aim for trees that change their appearance from season to season: pomegranate, plum, apple, cherry, and persimmon trees – all of which grow in the Golan Heights, a region in Northern Israel. In this area, the farmers cultivate their land in a unique way, which is already 400 years in existence. The plots of land are not fenced, and the trees are scattered throughout the area. Contrary to the capitalist perception of land as an industrial resource that one needs to utilize in full, these farmers obtain large distances between the trees they plant and grow. They also manually handle the trees instead of using automated machines. Characterized by thick trunks and a wide spread of branches, these trees bear less fruit and mostly serve the families that live in the area. These characteristics bestow an ancient and primordial atmosphere over the area.
Every photograph I make begins with a pre-production stage of a few days' stay in the Golan Heights. During my time there, I locate a tree and ask the local farmer to keep an eye on people or animals that might cause damage to the trees, until my work process is complete and I photograph the tree. Later in the year, I returned to the same tree in two more seasons.
My search for trees in the Golan Heights brought me to the border between Israel and Lebanon, and the neighboring Syria. The war in Syria that year and its consequent movement of refugees close to the border colored my searches throughout this beautiful but dangerous rural environment, with an apocalyptic feeling. Every tree grove there has within its compounds a structure built in the days of the Syrian regime in the area. These buildings serve as resting place for the working farmers. Wandering around the area, you feel as if you have entered a different era, where people breathe-in the land they work, and cultivate it in traditional old-world methods.
I photograph each tree in three different seasons, setting it against a light backdrop. These are morning shots with artificial lighting. I use the backdrop to separate the tree from its natural habitat, creating an ambivalent perception of inside and outside, and of nature and artifice.
The final work is a triptych of three photographs, depicting the three growth stages of pomegranate, plum, apple, cherry, and persimmon trees, which portray life, change, and an awareness of what is lacking in life. The basic idea behind this project is the nature of observation, a suspension of our gaze at nature, which keeps pulling away from us, farther and farther. A slow observation over time represents restraint and patience, which are classical universal values. I see this time-based process as a metaphor for the way we perceive reality as an emotional space.
- Tal Shochat