They are the longest living organism on the planet and essential to life as we know it. But when did you last really look at a tree?
One person who has had a strong connection with trees for as long as he can remember is renowned photographer Adrian Houston. Five years ago, increasingly concerned that so many of our indigenous trees are being affected by disease and global warming, he decided to embark on an ambitious project that would give trees a voice. The result is an extraordinary collection of works, collectively entitled A Portrait of the Tree, that will run at Unit London’s new Hanover Square site from 17th to 28th September.
It was in October 2013 that Adrian first began questioning people about their favourite tree. The members of this group are as diverse as they are influential, from Richard Branson, actress Goldie Hawn and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason to Tony Kirkham, Head of Arboretum at Kew Gardens, designer Jasper Conran and Chairman of Condé Nast Britain Nicholas Coleridge.
Along the way Adrian heard many fascinating stories. Lord Tollemache, former Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, told of the ancient oak in whose hollow trunk Queen Elizabeth II used to shelter during the annual shoot on his estate. Designer Jasper Conran talked about the beech tree outside his bedroom window; the first and last thing he sees each day. Perhaps most poignant of all is the Cedar of Lebanon, part of the proud history and landscape of the grounds of Le Manoir aux Quat Saison, owned by legendary chef Raymond Blanc. Sadly, this magnificent tree was diseased and had to be cut down. Adrian’s art will now ensure it is captured for posterity.
Tales exchanged, Adrian then traveled throughout the UK, and further afield to Namibia, Madagascar, Ibiza, France and America, to photograph the trees in question.
These photographs, accompanied by their stories, will be displayed at the exhibition. Says Adrian,
“I am very excited that we will be among the first to exhibit at Unit London’s new Hanover Square gallery. For the last few years, Unit London has championed the world’s most exciting emerging artists and I was thrilled when co-founders Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt offered to house this most personal of retrospectives.”
It is planned that A Portrait of the Tree will be styled and dressed to make the entire experience immersive, interactive, joyful, educational and exciting. The doorway will lead visitors through an ancient oak into an immersive world of trees and woodland soundscapes.
A percentage of all sales will go to two leading charities: Future Trees Trust, a national charity dedicated to improving disease resilience, growth rate, form and adaptability to climate change of broadleaved trees, and Trees for Cities, responsible for planting over 700,000 urban trees in parks, streets, schools and housing estates across the world, revitalising these areas and improving the lives of the people who live in them.
Working in conjunction with Trees for Cities, the exhibition will also run parallel with an educational programme aimed at raising social awareness about the importance of our trees, the environment and climate change. Children from over 25 London-wide primary and secondary schools will be invited to tour the exhibition. A photographic competition will also invite 8-16-year olds to submit photographs of their own favourite trees. The best three images – and stories – will feature in A Portrait of the Tree.
“A Portrait of the Tree was conceived as a way of illustrating how trees connect us all on a universal level. The stories behind the chosen subjects are as important as the images themselves. Together they offer a powerful tool to help educate people, from children through to adults, about the vital role that trees play in all of our lives.”