A Trunk-ated Image

Ken Smith

I have been photographing tree stumps for a number of years. I am fascinated by these ghost remnants in our landscape. Often overlooked or ignored, stumps are beautiful and evocative of continuity within the changing environment.

Urban trees have challenged life spans with many threats to their existence and longevity: lack of soil, indifference of care, and arboricide. The average city tree has a limited lifespan, often measured in a few decades. While trees contribute so much to human health, environmental sustainability, and quality of life, they often face a perilous existence in our contemporary urban culture.


Some cultures, however, revere trees. I’m blown away by the ancient plane trees at Villa Lante outside Rome. These hollowed out trees would have been cut down in the “risk averse” United States, but there they are a protected garden legacy. I’m also stunned by the ancient trees at the Imperial Palace in Beijing. These revered trees are in some cases centuries old and their Qi is considered a source of life and energy for humans.

Composer John Cage once said (in paraphrase) that decay is fundamental to life. Stumps and snags provide critical habitats and ecological benefits in the urban forest.

Related Stories