Photographs: Benjamin Swett On View in the Arsenal Gallery March 6 – April 26, 2013
The City of New York Parks & Recreation is pleased to announce the photography exhibition New York City of Trees by Benjamin Swett. Twenty-nine color portraits of trees around the five boroughs take the viewer up close to some of the extraordinary species that grow along the streets and in the parks, cemeteries, gardens, and backyards of the city. On view in the Arsenal Gallery from March 6 through April 26 (Arbor Day and Frederick Law Olmsted’s birthday), the images have been selected from Swett’s forthcoming book New York City of Trees, to be released by the Quantuck Lane Press on March 6.
After working at Parks for thirteen years, Swett left in 2001 to pursue a career as a freelance photographer but continued to photograph New York City’s urban forest, fascinated by the connections between trees and the city’s history. “We know that trees improve living conditions in cities by filtering and cooling the air, absorbing excess rainwater, and making neighborhoods more attractive,” writes Swett. “But little has been said about the importance of trees as keepers of a city’s past. The aim in taking these pictures—aside from taking the best photographs I could—was to try to bring back into focus an aspect of the city that most people tend to take for granted until something happens to it. The idea has been to remind New Yorkers how much of their own lives and the lives of neighbors these trees quietly contain.”
"New York is a city of trees," said NYC Parks Commissioner Veronica M. White. "Benjamin Swett's love and knowledge of those trees is remarkable and it's a treat for Parks to host his show and give all New Yorkers a chance to share his artistry. And the fact that he is a former Parkie, makes this show even more special."
Among the trees photographed in this exhibition is an Osage Orange found at the Olmsted-Beil House in Staten Island, one of few remaining trees that Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central Park fame, planted before he moved to Manhattan in 1859 when he was “experimenting with the relationship of plants to the land.” In another image, an American elm overlooks Harlem River Drive and the landmarked Highbridge—likely the stalwart from a row of newly planted 3-inch elms included on a park map from 1934 when Parks Commissioner Robert Moses renovated the Speedway. Swett documents a lopsided Silver Linden in Prospect Park on a rainy afternoon in October. Lindens became one of the most popular planting trees in New York parks since they offered a shaded respite from the sun’s heat in the years before air conditioning.
“New York is a city built atop a forest. And in a forest, every tree has a story. As this wonderfully personal account of the trees of New York City amply demonstrates, the trees are still here, idiosyncratic, communicative, full of personality, standing for the ages with a resolute perseverance that does our forest-city proud,” states Eric Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, and author of Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City. “Through Benjamin Swett’s photographs and text, you will come to know your neighbors, make new friends, hear their tales, tell them yours, and expand your notion of what it means to be a New Yorker.”
Benjamin Swett is a New York-based photographer with a particular interest in combining photographs with text. His books include New York City of Trees (2013), The Hudson Valley: A Cultural Guide (2009), Route 22 (2007), and Great Trees of New York City: A Guide (2000). The former director of the Parks in Print program here at NYC Parks, Mr. Swett produced more than 40 illustrated books, brochures and annual reports during 13 years at the Parks Department and the City Parks Foundation. He teaches photography at Wave Hill, the public garden and cultural center in the Bronx, and lives in Manhattan with his wife and sons.
This project was partially funded through a grant from Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, with additional support from the City Parks Foundation.
April is MillionTreesNYC Month: celebrate trees and the New Yorkers who love them by attending the series of events and workshops, culminating in MillionTreesNYC’s signature large-scale planting event on Saturday April 27 (sites citywide).
The Arsenal Gallery, in partnership with MillionTreesNYC, is pleased to offer three public lectures by noted tree authors in conjunction with the exhibit New York City of Trees:
On Thursday, March 14, 6:00 p.m. the Arsenal will host a lecture by the ecologist and naturalist Eric Sanderson, Lives of Trees in New York City: Retrospective and Prospective Views from the Wildlife Conservation Society's Welikia Project.
On Thursday, April 4, 6:00 p.m. the U.S. Forest Service scientist David Nowak will present his latest discoveries in Valuing New York City's Changing Urban Forest.
On Arbor Day, Friday, April 26, 6:00 p.m. the author and NYC tree expert Edward Barnard will present Stopping by Old Friends: My Favorite Trees in Central Park.
Benjamin Swett will be available to sign books at all three programs. Seating is limited; to RSVP for these events please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two bicycle tours of trees in Manhattan and The Bronx are also planned in conjunction with the exhibition and book release. On April 13, the Five Borough Bicycle Club will lead a tour of great trees in Manhattan with talks by Benjamin Swett. The tour includes a stop at the Arsenal Gallery as well as visits to seven trees in Washington Square Park, Madison Square Park, and Central Park. On April 27, Boogie Down Rides and Wave Hill will host a tour of significant and meaningful trees in the Bronx with talks by Benjamin Swett.
On April 20, Benjamin Swett will give a slide lecture, “Favorite Trees around the Five Boroughs,” accompanied by stories about each tree and a book signing, at Wave Hill, the public garden and cultural center in the Bronx.
Additional information on all events, including RSVP contacts can be found at: http://www.milliontreesnyc.org/html/involved/month.shtml
The Arsenal Gallery is dedicated to examining themes of nature, urban space, wildlife, New York City parks, and park history. It is located on the third floor of the NYC Parks & Recreation headquarters, in Central Park, on Fifth Avenue at 64th Street. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for holidays. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.nyc.gov/parks/art or call 212-360-8163.