Where does nature end and man begin? When a man leaves a mark how does it transform a place?
I asked these questions while working on a previous series that documented ways in which man ritualistically marked his environment. Shortly after completing that series I was fly-fishing on a small creek in a remote area of Wyoming. After fishing along the creek for some time and hiking into the forest a few miles from the nearest road, I saw an odd aspen tree. Aspens often have many scars. However, this tree’s scars were man-made. They comprised of unusual symbols and a foreign language carved in elaborate script.
These marks, made by Basque shepherds all over the West, are true folk art. They are expressions that were never meant to be seen by a greater audience. Some of these carvings are so remote and hidden that it’s possible I may have been the first to see them in decades.
I don’t need to know what they mean, rather what interests me is what the act of making them tells me about the man who dug his knife into that thin white bark 50, 75, or even more than 100 years ago. Therefore, I approach photographing these “arborglyphs” much like an environmental portraitist. Using the tree as a surrogate for the shepherd.