The Sawtelle Giant
A tree is a community within a community. This particular tree lives on the edge of Sawtelle Blvd. in West Los Angeles on the property of the Yamaguchi Nursery in a small Japan town. It is the tallest of its species, Ceiba Speciosa, in California, also known as the silk floss tree of tropical origin. In Spanish it is called "palo borracho," which literally translates as "drunken stick." There are many species of Ceiba trees around the world, including the Ceiba Pentendra, the tree of life in Mayan cosmology. It connects the underworld, the heavens, and the terrestrial world. It is a community connecting communities.
I have roamed the area where this tree lives many times, and have come to wonder how such a life-giving, sacred, and implausible survivor has been so routinely overlooked by the urban passersby. I had taken its picture before in square medium format, yet one day in winter, seeing the bare branched tree umbrella between two buildings it just hit me that I should circle the entire neighborhood, photographing the tree up close and far away, as a kind of axis mundi; as an homage to this all too rarely noticed naval and ornament of the community. Due to my demanding work schedule, I have drifted in and out of this project for quite some time. I worked with my 4x5 field camera which seemed like the right support, allowing the possibility of perspective correction and extremely fine detail. The photographs were mostly made in 2015. They were exhibited at the Beyond Baroque Literary / Arts Center at the Mike Kelley Art Gallery in Venice, California. The film was scanned in 2023 and assembled in 2024.
This work has been inspired and informed by many other fine art photographers, particularly Robert Adams, who has shown trees for what they are, what they were, and what they emblematically inspire.