Guest post by Emanuel Craciunescu of TreeHeads.
The forest kept calling me, but I ignored it. Why were the outdoors beckoning me? I had too much work to do. The screen needed my constant attention. Responding to emails, directing photo restoration and age progression projects for missing people and fugitives as part of Phojoe.com was my life. But it was starting to affect me. I love what I do, but something had to change, and quick. I felt like I was dying. Physically, I was tired, had back pain, and was experiencing other strange ailments. Mentally, I was drained. There were days on end when I would not see the sun or breathe the outside air. I felt like I was beginning to become a part of the computer that I was enslaved to.
Nature has always been a part of me. I was born in the Transylvania region of Romania. A beautiful and magical mountainous area that is home to two-thirds of the European Union’s remaining Virgin Old Growth Forest. My family and I immigrated to America to escape communism in 1986 (three years before communism fell). Although I had left behind the forests of Romania, the memory of those trees was always with me. I came from a family with a rich history in farming & Forestry. On my mom’s side, my great grandfather managed the rivers, streams and waterways of his city. On my dad’s side, my great grandfather managed the forest’s in his region, the modern-day equivalent of a DNR Conservation officer. My father spent his childhood outdoors tending to sheep and cows. I was unknowingly rebelling against my traditions and heritage.
My book, TreeHeads is an ode to nature and its forests. It started several years ago on a camping trip with my wife and her parents in the Porcupine Mountains in the upper peninsula of Michigan. I fell in love with these woods. I had Deja-vu the moment I started walking the trails. I was born in Cluj, Romania whose Northern coordinates are 46.7712 N. The Porkies in Michigan have northern coordinates of 46.7759 N., almost identical northern coordinates. These woods reminded me of the old growth forests from my childhood in Romania. No wonder these woods seduced me.
I always carry a camera with me. I explored these woods for hours. I kept finding what looked like faces in the fallen trees. The burls and knots were the heads. But not every angle revealed a face, I had to search for it. So I started photographing all these new creatures I had discovered. I felt like an explorer who stumbled upon dozens of new species that had yet to be discovered by the human eye.
Some of the faces resembled owls frozen in time and carved into the bark. I even found faces in the fungi and mushrooms. Was I going crazy or hallucinating? Was I suffering from Pareidolia? A psychological condition in which inanimate objects come to life and in my case, manifest as Treeheads. Or maybe this was just a side effect from my other work of studying and analyzing human faces to find missing people and fugitives. I was always studying human faces, and now I was studying tree faces.
I had a new obsession. When I returned home from the Porkies I couldn’t wait to review the photos of all the new creatures I had discovered. I began exploring every nature center, public and state park as well as national parks. Any place that had trees, I was there. This project has taken me to many states including California, Arizona, Kentucky, Ohio, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and many more. My goal is to visit and photograph all of the remaining old growth forests of the world before man destroys them. Most of Europe has been logged, but there are pockets of old growth areas still left. These old growth forests is where I tend to find the most Treeheads.
Early people believed that trees had souls. Some were benevolent, and others were evil spirits. Perhaps these Treeheads are lost souls that are trapped in the bark and branches of trees. Maybe They are reincarnated souls frozen in time. They may just be random mutations or a kind of cancer that manifests as tree growths (burls).
I tend to find more TreeHeads in deciduous forests than coniferous forests. I get excited every time I wander into a forest that I haven’t explored. Another goal with this project is to excite people of all ages with these gentle giants, or TreeHeads.
The Japanese have a concept called “forest bathing”. Doctors in Japan prescribe this for ailments such as stress and depression. Studies show that walking amongst trees in a forest as opposed to an urban environment is much more therapeutic and has many health benefits. Trees release chemicals known as phytoncides that strengthen the immune system. To protect these few remaining stands of virgin forests, one must first appreciate them. But one can only appreciate something fully if they understand it.
I have captured thousands of TreeHeads. Each one is unique, like a new species or a distant relative to an animal. The same TreeHead can yield dozens of different interpretations from people. Within the same image, some see a frog, dog, ghost or character from Lord of the Rings. It’s nature’s Rorschach Test. Some people see the same thing, while others conjure creative interpretations. Everyone seems to have fun looking at them, kids especially! My ultimate goal is to have a coffee table book with the best of TreeHeads. For now, you can see many of these new creatures frozen in the bark of trees on TreeHeads.org.
So, get outside into the woods and explore. Bathe in the beauty of nature, and if you happen to stumble upon a TreeHead, say hello.