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“Elm Street, 1978, Oblong Valley,CT”

Tom Zetterstrom of North Canaan, Conn., is more than just a photographer of trees and more than just a specialist in preserving and maintaining tree health. He is both. Learn more this month at his show and workshops at the Berkshire Botanical Gardens. Photo by Tom Zetterstrom

Photographs That Are Lovely, Dark and Deep

Trees

It’s easy to take Tom Zetterstrom of North Canaan, Conn., for granted. He’s always there, working hard to protect the trees of our landscape (especially the elms). He doesn’t really ask for our help, he just …gets to it. 

What he does ask for, however, is that we notice. That we notice the beauty around us, especially the beauty of the trees. And that we notice threats to those trees, notably the non-native invasive plants that choke them and make our roadsides and forests a) unsightly and b) unhealthy and c) a haven for disease-bearing ticks. 

To help us see what we might otherwise miss, Zetterstrom tirelessly visits all our area towns and offers workshops on how to stop the spread of Japanese knotweed, or whatever is the most aggressive interloper in any given year.

But he helps us notice in another way: Zetterstrom is an award-winning photographer whose work is not only in many museum and private collections, it’s also in the Library of Congress. His photos are of (yes) trees.

That his work has earned so many accolades will clue you in to their beauty. The images are black-and-white silver gelatin prints, shot on a film camera, soft focus and ghostly. They make you understand what the druids meant when they said that spirits live in trees. 

The photos are usually in black and white, usually soft and glowy, always haunting. Someone described them recently as being shot “in portrait mode,” with the background softened to the point where it seems to disappear. 

For those of us who know Zetterstrom but perhaps have never seen his photographs, for those who already admire the beauty of the trees around us (in forests, in parking lots, on historic town greens) and want to see them get the loving artistic treatment they deserve, there is a show of his work opening Friday, Sept. 17,  at the Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Leonhardt Galleries. There will be an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. There are 36 of his images in Portraits of American Trees.

In addition to the gallery show, Zetterstrom will also offer three talks on the art of tree photography, on Sundays Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. and Oct. 10 and 24 at 11 a.m.

And of course, because he is as passionate about protecting trees as he is about creating beautiful images of them, he will offer four talks in a series called Whose Woods These Are: Defeating Japanese Knotweed on the Wild and Scenic Housatonic River on Sept. 25 from 10 to 11 a.m.; History and Preservation of the American Elm in New England on Oct. 2 from 3:30 to 5 p.m.; Defeating Oriental Bittersweet and Protecting Standing Forests on Oct 9 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (there will be a cut-and-treat workshop along with the talk); and Pruning Young Elms, designed for arborists, tree wardens, horticulturalists, and the public on Oct. 30 from 10 a.m. to noon (again, the talk is followed by a hands-on workshop).

To find out more and to get directions, go to www.berkshirebotanical.org.

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