This spring, while avoiding public spaces except for Kansas City parks, I spent a week taking pictures of trees. The activity prompted me to send a message to Ahram Park, an artist and photographer who has completed many series of images celebrating and observing the objects of nature. His images hone in on the unique properties of each leaf, occasionally altering them with small perforations or arrangements to create contrast, symmetry or close focus on texture, shape, and light.
When I asked Ahram to send me some recent projects, he surprised me by sending three zines of images in PDF format, one of which featured images from nature and two others that focus more on color and shape. Below is a presentation of the zines in GIF format and a discussion with Park about the inspiration and process behind them.
— Lucas Wetzel, Kawsmouth editor
What, to you, is a Championship Tree?
Oftentimes, size is the determining factor of a champion tree. But to me, shape, presence, and surroundings determine a true champ. Large trees are hard to come by in Los Angeles, so I welcome the ones I notice. There is an enormous rubber tree in front of Union Station in DTLA that is impressionable. I see people sleeping under it all the time.
When did you start not just shooting nature, but manipulating it — I’m thinking of the series in which you used a leaf blower to scatter dust on Kansas highways, or the photo series of perforated leaves?
I became frustrated with my pictures around 2012. I felt as though I was asking someone else’s questions and not mine. What is a question that only I could answer? What would it look like?
What are a couple of your favorite tree spots in Kansas City, and in California?
My favorite trees in Kansas City are the Cottonwoods that line Cliff Drive. In the summer, they fill out with Kudzu and look like giants. In California, I visit an old rubber tree that I like to collect leaves from. It feels like mushroom hunting, but instead, I look for color and shape.
It’s not often you see images of an orchard in black-and-white, or fruit sliced in the way you present in these PDFs. It’s a bit like an imagist poem or newspaper collage, except using the medium of photography.
Years ago, Mike Sinclair and I went to a Sunday service at St. James. Afterward, he showed me an apple tree that I later ended up photographing and printing on a large xerox. The images you see on the pdf are made using a handheld scanner. I would go from print to print picking up portions that I liked, combining my favorite elements. I could touch and image at the same time.
The squares caught me by surprise. How did you make the leap from black and white photography to textured miniature colorfield art?
For a while, I was scanning used color gels and secretly looking at them for hours. I think I even created a Tumblr account and would post them anonymously. It felt out of my wheelhouse but I still really enjoyed making them. When I moved away for school, I would visit the library with my handheld scanner and image photographs and book covers that I liked. Like a lot of pictures, they sat there for a few years until I recently started making PDFs.
The size and colors change as you scroll through. The edges tease you with definite shapes or visions of the beyond. They hide the story, and they are the story.
I was interested in surface as image. Surfaces became playgrounds.
Maybe it’s just the times we are in, but the squares seem lonely, they are spread out far apart from each other.Then I found myself reading them rapidly to create an impression of motion, and they felt more “together.” And finally, there’s the “I am a dog 2 PDF,” in which you’ve gone to tree leaves to page leaves.
I took those pictures on my cell while flipping through paper I bought for a book mock-up.
In the pages the hues change constantly, the facing pages are different colors and one slide to the next is different from the other in mood. It’s fascinating just to stare at late at night when words and coherent thoughts have left me.
Maybe we look for order, and perhaps color falls outside the realm of order. But, I’m mostly with you, I just look at them. I’m not sure what’s happening.
I recently completed an archiving project in which scanning had to be abandoned for copy photography. One of the trickiest things was making sure my thumbs stayed out of the frame. But in this series it feels like a natural part of the image.
Sometimes it’s nice to make something without so being critical of the details. Walking through an idea before jumping.
The book never really opens up all the way, so it creates an illusion that the page keeps going around the bend, sort of a blind curve. I began to question whether it was really a book or instead a giant ream of paper I’m trying to find my way through.
Right. We have expectations that there should be a beginning and an end. The form demands these expectations.
I’m used to seeing PDFs in a utilitarian and not an artistic context. They are usually something I use for work in previewing or reviewing published works in other formats. Why did you choose this format?
I started making them because they felt less than a book and more than a picture. Almost like a zine. I’ve been sending them to friends while we’ve been quarantined. The form of the PDF brings a certain set of expectations; like a book. It’s been fun sharing and working the archive.
Even in a time of confinement, I’ve found from talking to people that during quarantine, new spaces are opening up for them creatively and even spiritually. What spaces have you found opening up for you this past two months?
Last week I built a small climbing wall in my side yard. Moving keeps me present. I’m happy to be here.
GIFs shown above, available for download, courtesy of Ahram Park