Two Inadequate Voices


2IV is a platform for image-makers to recount and reflect textually on their stories of being out in the world whilst photographing.

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Dawn Roe
Conditions for an Unfinished Work of Mourning: Wretched Yew (Clackamas River Yew; Folded)

First encounter: June, 2018

Sun filled Pacific Northwest late afternoon; bird sounds; boots on gravel; Clackamas River running in background; loose bark coming away from tree; snapping of branches underfoot; lens adjustment.
        - Audio and visual record from video clip.

The base of the tree is enormous. It’s said to be the second largest yew in the United States. Neither of these things can be known from this image. In fact a full year transpired between my first visit to the tree and the making of this photogram that somehow marks both moments.

For years upon years Pacific Yew thrived in these North American forests, existing as a seemingly insignificant understory component. Old growth yew are much sparser now, after being carelessly decimated in the 1990s when the tree was discovered to generate a plant alkaloid highly effective as a chemotherapy drug. Known both biologically and mythologically as a symbol of death and regeneration, the species endures - demonstrating its persistence within these fluctuating histories of neglect and care.

Return: June, 2019

Unidentifiable birds and wind; faint voices from some distance away; sound of camera sliding along metal track; paper coming away from branches; bag zipping.
        - Audio and visual record from video clip

As with my first visit, I was alone only partly - the occasional fisher or hiker would pass by and, this time, a small group of school aged children and their guide quizzically studying my engagement with a small branch of the yew extending over the footpath. A single sheet of fiber-based silver gelatin paper was clipped to the underside of the branch with a gaffer clothespin, its light sensitive side facing toward the sky. Underneath toward the ground was my tripod holding the camera recording video footage of the scene and my physical interaction with the tree. A less expected situation than most passersby typically encounter in otherwise familiar circumstances - the photographer in the woods, with a camera.

This simple act - folding paper around a small, hanging branch - provided a single imprint, as both trace of its material presence, and marker of the extended moment (that which encompassed the exposure time, and perhaps marking both past and future moments, as well).

Re-connection / Re-collection: August/September, 2020

A former student living nearby this park in Oregon has come to know of my engagement with this/these trees. She sends me a text message from the park in early August with an image of the tree asking, “Is this it?” It is. She made a quick snap of the tree from a ways down the path it sits alongside on a classically clear, bright summer day. The tree appears both ordinary, and vibrant.

One month later, she texts again with news of the fires rapidly encroaching upon the park. It is a strange gut punch to know this tree (my tree/our tree) is truly threatened alongside acres and acres of forests, sacred lands, homes, and businesses - places and communities I have known and loved - and to understand this as a type of collective grief. The fires were abetted, and the tree still stands. I’m sure I’ll go back and see it again - willingly taking on the disparaging name/retort/epithet of tree hugger. There’s poison ivy all over this thing, though. Very apt, for the yew.

Dawn Roe is Professor of Studio Art in the Rollins College Department of Art & Art History in Winter Park, FL (U.S.). v Working between and within the still and moving image, her projects examine the role of these media in shaping persona and social understandings of our environment through site-responsiv engagement. Roe’s photographs and videos are exhibited regularly throughout the U.S. and internationally. The recipient of various awards and fellowships, her work and writing has been featured i print and web-based journals including Aint-Bad, Oxford American, The Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography's series Frame/s, and the Routledge publication photographies. A two-year public art commission from the Broward County Division of Cultural Affairs in 2015 resulted in the production of a suite of artworks for the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Roe’s work is represented by Tracey Morgan Gallery in Asheville, NC.