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The Life Of Christmas Trees, Before The Merriment

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While many are putting the final touches on their decorated Christmas trees across the country this week, photographer John Lusk Hathaway is more concerned about the trees before they were chopped down.

Hathaway, who has a background in science, always thought it was strange to see trees growing in such rigid patterns, as opposed to the natural way they grow in forests.

He started photographing tree farms in Cherokee National Forest in northeastern Tennessee three years ago as part of a larger project on land use and land management called wild-life. But he later realized that the tree photos were a story of their own, touching on concepts of environmentalism, consumerism and religion.

While he focuses on environmental issues in his work, Hathaway doesn't have an activist motivation behind his images.

"I would hope in my photographs that there is a subjective element. I don't want my photos to be one-sided or for people to think that all Christmas trees are bad," Hathaway says on the phone.

Since Hathaway started this project, called Reason for the Season, he has already seen changes in the business, both for large-scale operations and for small family farms. The big farms' profit margin has become slimmer as costs like gas, transportation and labor have grown. And he has seen some farms shrink and others slowly leave the business.

Hathaway, who is now based in Charleston, S.C., has mixed feelings about tree farms as he continues to work on the project. This year he decided to buy a tree — which hailed from a farm in North Carolina near where he photographs — to celebrate with his two children, ages 3 and 3 months.

He hopes that in the next few years his family will have a larger discussion about how to incorporate trees into their future Christmas celebrations.

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