Daily Picture Show

A Photographer And His Friend, 'That Tree'

  • March 14, 2012. "An old Bur Oak is silhouetted by the setting sun in the second photo I ever took of it with my iPhone," says Hirsch. "I eventually committed to photographing the tree every day for a year in a project I called That Tree."
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    March 14, 2012. "An old Bur Oak is silhouetted by the setting sun in the second photo I ever took of it with my iPhone," says Hirsch. "I eventually committed to photographing the tree every day for a year in a project I called That Tree."
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
  • April 30, 2012. "That Tree" is an ancient bur oak growing on the edge of a cornfield near Platteville, Wis.
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    April 30, 2012. "That Tree" is an ancient bur oak growing on the edge of a cornfield near Platteville, Wis.
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
  • May 1, 2012. Staminate and semitransparent early growth leaves hang from a branch of "That Tree."
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    May 1, 2012. Staminate and semitransparent early growth leaves hang from a branch of "That Tree."
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
  • June 6, 2012. Dawn light creates an enchanted feeling as the moon sets beyond "That Tree."
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    June 6, 2012. Dawn light creates an enchanted feeling as the moon sets beyond "That Tree."
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
  • July 2, 2012. In a timed exposure captured on an iPhone 4S using the iPhone app SlowShutter, the flight paths of fireflies leave yellow brush strokes as they fly in and around "That Tree" at dusk.
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    July 2, 2012. In a timed exposure captured on an iPhone 4S using the iPhone app SlowShutter, the flight paths of fireflies leave yellow brush strokes as they fly in and around "That Tree" at dusk.
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
  • Aug. 4, 2012. Summer corn grows tall around "That Tree."
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    Aug. 4, 2012. Summer corn grows tall around "That Tree."
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
  • Sept. 6, 2012. Heavy dew drops cling to the grass growing at the base of "That Tree."
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    Sept. 6, 2012. Heavy dew drops cling to the grass growing at the base of "That Tree."
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
  • Oct. 9, 2012. "In what is probably one of my last photographs of 'That Tree' with corn still standing in the field, I wanted to make one last sunset photo before the harvest."
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    Oct. 9, 2012. "In what is probably one of my last photographs of 'That Tree' with corn still standing in the field, I wanted to make one last sunset photo before the harvest."
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
  • Nov. 18, 2012. Hoarfrost encrusts cornstalks and a fallen leaf from "That Tree," where it rests in the picked cornfield.
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    Nov. 18, 2012. Hoarfrost encrusts cornstalks and a fallen leaf from "That Tree," where it rests in the picked cornfield.
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
  • Dec. 11, 2012. With snow clinging to its branches from an evening snowstorm, the first light of day paints "That Tree" with a crimson light against a cold, blue sky.
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    Dec. 11, 2012. With snow clinging to its branches from an evening snowstorm, the first light of day paints "That Tree" with a crimson light against a cold, blue sky.
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
  • Jan. 11, 2013. Normally hidden by the shady green canopy, the bare branches and today's thick, misty light added drama to the scene by showcasing all of the moss and lichen thriving on the bark of "That Tree." It "truly serves as an oasis nurturing an incredible array of living things."
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    Jan. 11, 2013. Normally hidden by the shady green canopy, the bare branches and today's thick, misty light added drama to the scene by showcasing all of the moss and lichen thriving on the bark of "That Tree." It "truly serves as an oasis nurturing an incredible array of living things."
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
  • Feb. 6, 2013. Like a scene from the land of fairy, "That Tree" rises ethereal from the enchanted mists with hoarfrost encrusting the landscape.
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    Feb. 6, 2013. Like a scene from the land of fairy, "That Tree" rises ethereal from the enchanted mists with hoarfrost encrusting the landscape.
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
  • March 6, 2013. "I had an incredible day. Seems fitting that it concluded with this glorious red sunset over 'That Tree!' "
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    March 6, 2013. "I had an incredible day. Seems fitting that it concluded with this glorious red sunset over 'That Tree!' "
    Courtesy of Mark Hirsch

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Mark Hirsch is a 52-year-old photojournalist who happens to be friends with a tree — specifically, a towering bur oak on the edge of a cornfield in southwest Wisconsin. This unique relationship began on March 23, 2012, when Hirsch photographed the tree with his new iPhone, during a particularly impressive sunset. That test of new technology turned into a yearlong documentation, and a personal transformation.

"I shoot pictures for a living," says Hirsch over the phone, "and I had stopped taking pictures for me, so I decided I was going to start taking a picture a day." His subject was the tree he had driven past for 20 years but had never photographed. His project became That Tree, and Hirsch posted one photo a day on his Facebook page.

In the beginning, he says he was just taking a picture of a tree, but over time his relationship with the project changed. "The longer I spent down there, the greater my appreciation for what a unique force [this tree] was and what an impact it had on the quality of life around it. In that realm, in that microcosm of the world, it really is a tree of life."

Over time, the resident blackbird stopped squawking at his arrival and instead began to sing, but the challenge of photographing the tree in a new way became increasingly difficult.

On the last day of the project, Mark Hirsch invited his Facebook followers to visit the tree and have their portrait taken. Close to 300 people showed up, along with 12 dogs. i i

hide captionOn the last day of the project, Mark Hirsch invited his Facebook followers to visit the tree and have their portrait taken. Close to 300 people showed up, along with 12 dogs.

Courtesy of Mark Hirsch
On the last day of the project, Mark Hirsch invited his Facebook followers to visit the tree and have their portrait taken. Close to 300 people showed up, along with 12 dogs.

On the last day of the project, Mark Hirsch invited his Facebook followers to visit the tree and have their portrait taken. Close to 300 people showed up, along with 12 dogs.

Courtesy of Mark Hirsch

"I spent 25 years as a photojournalist constantly chasing the moment, and at times almost forcing visual opportunities. And photographing a tree? There was nothing to force! I couldn't impact anything."

Hirsch challenged himself to slow down and change his perspective, so he climbed the highest branches, laid down in the mud and in the snow, and learned to appreciate the grass beneath his cheeks.

"Call it the energy of place, call it the energy of the tree, call it the coincidence of patience, but it's been an incredible experience," says Hirsch.

In honor of Arbor Day, keep an eye out for the ordinary awesomeness that you pass by every day. Who knows, that tree on the corner could be your new best friend.

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