A photograph of the author staring at a tree triggers a flow of images, a chain of interlaced memories. That time when he was exiled away from his natal Argentina. That other time when he climbed really high up a tree with his brother when they were children. And that time when they played dead. In this book, trees are trusted keepers of secrets, stern observers of life. Tree Time invites us to think about a time beyond our grasp, a longer existence where we ourselves will become someone else’s memory.
Nature and particularly trees are a constant reference in Marcelo Brodsky’s work. He returns to them in several occasions, they are a reason to stop and ponder. Trees are silent keepers of memories, both joyful and horrifying. The images in this book represent a stream of consciousness, drifting in and out of memories and dreams. They show glimpses of various times and places; a process of remembering, dreaming and coming to terms with a life intensely lived.
Every image has several layers of meaning, at first evocative, then poetic and political. And it is precisely this that makes this book a key reference; it is a heartfelt confrontation of a grave political issue, that of the mass disappearances in Argentina during the dictatorship regime of the 1970s.
Another dimension one can find in these images is the tree as ritual. A photograph in the book shows a written note tied to a branch with a string. It is a message to one of thousands of disappeared people in Argentina. The forest is full of messages to be carried out by the trees. They suddenly become a memorial, and the forest a place of remembrance, of forgiveness and acceptance.
As an object, this book is thoughtfully designed. Bespoke inserts make the experience of the book much more intimate and engaging. It is an interesting physical embodiment of a stream of thought. It represents the wanderings of a mind with a lifetime of memories and stories; some beautiful, some so painful they can cost dearly to conjure and remember.
An essay written by Eduardo Cadava complements the series of images. He takes care in describing and contextualising each photograph in detail, not only within Brodsky’s work (this book brings together images taken from 1970 up to 2013) but also in a wider perspective, linking it to the discourse of photography and memory.
The essay is an essential read, as it pins down personal and political references, some of which might not be evident to someone who’s approaching Brodsky’s work for the first time. It works as an independent piece, but is also a key to access some of his more cryptic images.
And then there is solace. A family. Love. A tree is also the centre of this intimate bond, so is the landscape, the calmness of a still lake. At the end of the journey there is peace, represented by a millenary tree that embraces all. It is perhaps the recognition of our mortality, and that we are only part of a longer, more complex story. It is the certainty that we too will become a memory. An instant in the perennial time of trees.
Tree Time (Tiempo de Arbol) by Marcelo Brodsky can be purchased here.
Rodrigo Orrantia is an art historian and photography curator based in London. He currently works as photography curator and consultant for Lucid-ly, an international art photography consultancy working with artists, private collectors and public institutions in the development of art photography projects, exhibitions and publications. He is currently part of the board of curators at Sala Brasil and Gallery 32 for the Brazilian Embassy in London.