by Gerald Boerner
Beth Moon is a photographer that remains dedicated to the use of film, alternative printing process (platinum) and the creation of beautiful images of her subjects. She has created several series, some of which focus on carnivorous plants (“The Savage Garden”). She has also shot children as they transition from one age to another and some of the strange trees found around the world. In all of these endeavors, she creates artful images that need to be savored and appreciated. GLB
“It is hard to find a subject more challenging to photograph than ancient trees. How do I express their power and beauty to those who have never seen them? How do I convey this power and beauty to those who have?I want to speak the language of the trees.”
— Beth Moon
“I want to record the passion that I see come alive before me and keep a clear picture so that even if a tree is destroyed by tempest wind, disease, greed or lack of concern, I will have a record of beauty and passion for those who were not able to make the journey.”
— Beth Moon
“Having a distinctive foul smell, tree parts may have been used by primitive tribes to ward off evil spirits, making the tree known in African folklore as ‘God’s Thumb.’ ”
— Beth Moon
“The ancient Mayan word for the Kapok tree means ‘raised up sky’. The Maya believed that a great Kapok tree stood at the center of the earth. Its magnificent canopy symbolized the heavens and its flowers symbolized the stars. Today, the Kapok tree remains a true tree of life, supporting vital rainforest plant and animal life.”
— Beth Moon
“Beth makes large digital negatives to contact print in platinum using Mike Ware’s method – a process I find challenging even to read about! If you’re unaware of the nature of many of these historic processes, they are often only UV light sensitive, The fun side effect is you can work with ordinary incandescent bulbs on and see exactly what you’re doing and who is doing what.”
— Brian Pawlawski
“In dreams, the magic that weaves man and animal together glows with vibrancy; there the mysteries of the natural world are plain, the connectedness of life overpowers in a true state of being in balance with the earth. The traceries of energy that link us with the animals of forest, lake and sky are alive if we are quiet enough to see them.”
— Beth Moon
“Indigenous Australians used baobabs as a source of water and food, and used leaves medicinally. They also painted and carved the outside of the fruits and wore them as ornaments. A very large, hollow baobab south of Derby, Western Australia was used in the 1890s as a prison for Aboriginal convicts on their way to Derby for sentencing. The Baobab Prison Tree still stands and is now a tourist attraction.”
— Beth Moon
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This posting is intended for the educational use of photographers and photography students and complies with the “educational fair use” provisions of copyright law. For readers who might wish to reuse some of these images should check out their compliance with copyright limitations that might apply to that use.
Beth Moon was born in Neenah, Wisconsin. Although she was a fine art major at the University of Wisconsin, she is a self-taught photographer. Her interest in photography was discovered somewhat indirectly over the course of time.
Beth was designing women’s clothing under her own label and needed photographs of her line. Each season, she would hire photographers to photograph her new designs until she decided to do it herself. "I never looked back," she recalls. Beth later sold the company and continued to purse her photographic interests, experimenting with various printing methods. The majority of her work today employs the Mike Ware platinum printing method that she learned while living in England.
Beth returned to the United States seven years ago, and lives with her husband and three children in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Time, memory and nature are the central motifs that underlie the photographic imagery of Beth Moon. Her platinum palladium images reveal a magical and intuitive appreciation for the ways in which these elements define our understanding of man’s place in the universe.
In the Portraits of Time series, Moon has photographed ancient trees expressing their language, spirit and beauty. Moon records the symbolic groves of the giant sequoias in the morning mist, the Joshua trees in the hot desert sun, the majestic, sentinel-like Baobab trees, and the ancient yew – all of which are intricate and elegant in their simplicity of form. As our earth becomes increasingly crowded these symbolic trees will take on a greater significance reminding us, through their grandeur and age as they stand as the earth’s largest, living monuments, how essential they are to our psychology and how precious they are to the soul of the world.
Moon captures the strange balance between childhood innocence and the darker wisdom of nature in the project, Thy Kingdom Come. With a metaphoric language, these images examine the relationship between man, animal and earth. With child and animal the main subject of these images, Moon expresses that the children walk these meridians, living purely in the moment, embodying the unreflective consciousness of the animal.
Also included in the exhibition are images from Savage Garden, a series of evocative portraits of the intricately structured flesh-eating plants, which evoke the poetic sensibility of nature.
Although Beth was a fine art major, she is a self-taught photographer with interests in alternative printing processes. The majority of her work today employs the Mike Ware platinum printing method that she learned while living in England. Beth has exhibited widely in England, France and throughout the U.S. with solo shows in London, San Francisco and Chicago. She has won several awards including the Golden Light Award from the Maine Photographic Workshops and she been published widely in major photographic magazines.
There are many steps involved with creating the final print and these are as important to me as the capturing of the image.
All photographs are platinum/palladium prints. These metals are hand coated on 100% rag cotton water color paper. Since platinum, like gold, is so stable and permanent, the platinum print is the most archival of any image on paper. A platinum print can last for centuries.
Beth Moon characterized several of her series of photos in the following way on her web site. Her images in “The Savage Garden” series has recently been featured in the November/December issue of LensWork magazine. Since her works are copyrighted and cannot be displayed here legally, I would like to refer you to an excellent slide show on the VERVE web site:
Beth Moon’s Photography,
for the Slide Show.
Portraits of Time
There is a ghost forest I’ve seen at the top of the world where wind-swept, gnarled trees grow in a timeless land. A land where little separates the living from the dead, a barren desert with no evidence of past or future.
I have walked among ancient temples that now lie in ruins where once nature existed in ornament, but now dominate and rule the crumbling kingdom. Where monks, deep in prayer, from centuries past can be seen in the empty corridors.
I have been to a sun-drenched island in a faraway land, where I’ve seen trees with swollen trunks grow upside-down. Rising out of thorn and sand, these forms loom large against a theatrical landscape.
There is an age-old forest where giants born in flame, rise up from the ashes of the earth, invincible like the phoenix. Draped in blankets of fog, they tower higher than skyscrapers.
There is an ancient land where I’ve seen mystic yews grow on hallowed ground, welcoming the dead at churchyard gates, coming from an age of great wisdom and spiritual significance, when rituals and magic were part of everyday life.
Fragments of my spirit now live among these places. Will you see my traces in the shadows as daylight disappears?
Thy Kingdom Come
The title, in this case refers to the animal kingdom, where animals in an older world move, gifted with senses we have lost, living by voices we do not hear. With a metaphoric language these images examine the relationship between man, animal and earth.
The child intuitively walks these meridians in a pure state of living in the moment, embodying the unreflective consciousness of the animal. Migrating between the two worlds, they carry this awareness on their backs. They are the tangible form of this fusion.
In dreams, the magic that weaves man and animal together glows with vibrancy; there the mysteries of the natural world are plain, the connectedness of life overpowers in a true state of being in balance with the earth. The traceries of energy that link us with the animals of forest, lake and sky are alive if we are quiet enough to see them.
The Savage Garden
At first glance these intricately structured plants seem demure in nature, almost coy. Leaning forward they beckon and invite. They extend themselves seductively. Highly evolved in the deadly art of attraction, they paralyze, shock, crush, and trap their victims that range from insects, spiders, worms, tadpoles, lizards and small rats.
What these plants have in common with all other plants is the desire to reproduce, to insure survival. In a world divided into terms of active and passive we tend to think of plants as passive, non-aggressive forms of life. Approximately 100 million years ago, evolution took these plants down a different path blurring the line that separates the vegetable from the animal kingdom. As they foraged for a diet high in protein, eating insects emerged as a brilliant evolutionary strategy – a miracle of purpose!
These plants deploy an astonishing array of devices to lure protein rich insects closer. The transparent hood of a Cobra Lily is designed to retain and reflect light specifically to draw the insects’ attention. Tiny hairs in the Venus Fly Trap signal when a visitor enters the claw-like appendage which will then snap shut, paralyzing, and crushing the victim. Luring prey with an intoxicating scent, Pitcher plants’ external hairs grow at an upward angle conducting insects toward the top to a slippery lip where lost in transports of ecstasy they fall like drunks and drown inside the trap. Sundews have long tentacles that glisten with a sticky mucilage that curl around the struggling fly that lands.
The poetic sensibility of nature seems to hover somewhere between beauty and terror, paradise and tragedy. In these flesh-eating plants we find a sinister beauty, and, if we look carefully we might find the slightest resemblance to ourselves. Evolution has taught these carnivorous plants how to make the best of the conditions they grow in, honoring the darker more mysterious side of nature.
Howard Grill, in his “Motivation: Images, Ideas, and Thoughts about Photography” blog, reports on his 2007 visit to Moon’s exhibition on “Trees”.
Recently, I have seen Beth Moon’s black and white photographs of the world’s most ancient and unusual trees in at least two fine art magazines, with LensWork being the most recent. While the trees themselves have inherent interest because of their history and how unusual they look, her images really bring out their character and, depending on the image, really makes them look either spooky, wise, aged, solemn, powerful etc.
As is usually the case with great photography, these images speak for themselves. Nonetheless, in the magazines there have been captions associated with the images that tell where the image was taken and the significance of the trees. Unfortunately, the individual images on her website don’t provide this interesting information about the trees that her magazine portfolios have had.
Of her work, Moon uses the following words from Dylan Thomas:
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sun light
And the legends of the green chapels
And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Still in the water and singing birds.
And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
— Dylan Thomas
Background and biographical information is from web sites at:
Beth Moon Web Site…
VERVE Slide Show: Beth Moon…
Howard Grill: Motivation blog…