The Living Forest: ‘Tree People,’ by Clark Vandergrift, captures magic of the woods

Growing up in Roanoke, Clark Vandergrift loved to play in the woods at his uncles’ farms. The trees fostered an environment of mystery and wisdom in which his imagination could flower.

When he became a commercial photographer, he often went early to on-location assignments so he could wander in nature. Carrying his 35mm digital camera, he hiked to ancient bristlecone pines, some of the oldest on Earth. He photographed redwoods. The idea for a fine art project took root.

epa04176175 Shane Red Hawk of the Sicangu Lakota band of the Rosebud Sioux (L) and his daughter Tshina Red Hawk (R) wait for tribal leaders with the 'Cowboy and Indian Alliance' to begin a horseback ride in protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline across from the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, USA, 22 April 2014. The alliance of farmers, ranchers, and tribes has dubbed their week-long series of protests 'Reject and Protect.' EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

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Vandergrift, who lives in Reisterstown, says: “I still look at the outdoors and the woods as a magical place. There’s a certain air, an essence, that’s impossible to describe or capture in a photograph. You just have to experience it … a combination of the smell of the place, the sights and sounds.”

“Tree People” aspires to render that magic. For each image, he hung a huge print of the landscape in his studio, then made a composite image of a model and the landscape for Jen Seidel, a professional body painter in Reisterstown. Seidel painted local models to match the scale of the trees. Vandergrift next photographed the models, illuminating them to replicate how the sunlight fell in his landscapes. Using Photoshop, he melded landscapes and painted models, making alluring portraits of the mystery of nature.

Sonya Doctorian, WP Magazine photo editor

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