The story of a tree

7 December 2015

Catherine Kirby

Catherine Kirby, one of the drivers of the NZ Tree Project which has its launch on Friday

A group of keen tree climbers from Hamilton have used time-lapse, hyper-lapse and cutting edge editing with custom built camera rigs, drones and 30m long cable cameras to create ground-breaking new angles of the forest world.

The New Zealand Tree Project is having its official launch this Friday 11 December at the University of Waikato’s Academy of Performing Arts. This innovative film and photography venture has captured imagery of majestic trees and native podocarp forest from viewpoints that have never been experienced from the forest floor.

The project team of Catherine Kirby, a research support officer at Waikato University, Wintec’s arboriculture academic Andrew Harrison, adventure photographer Steven Pearce and ecologist Jen Sanger spent a month deep in the Pureora Forest with a 40-metre rimu tree as their major focus.

The project is a New Zealand version of one of the most successful National Geographic projects ever undertaken. That American National Geographic project involved a 1500-year-old redwood tree which was portrayed in a five-page fold-out using hundreds of individual photographs.

This Friday, the group will present their finished photograph, captured by spending more than 29 days in the forest to capture more than 120,000 images and 1200 video clips.

The project team created a specialised camera rig that ran the entire 40m vertical length of the tree. The end result is an extraordinarily high quality, high resolution image from a level view point and without distortion, Catherine says.

The big picture has been created by stitching together 65 of the collected images and will be accompanied by a documentary and a series of gallery images.

“We’ve brought together art, science, history and technology, designing the project with exhibitions in mind, starting off at Wintec’s RAMP Gallery in Hamilton next Monday [December 14],” Catherine says.

“We’ve captured the beauty of the giant podocarp forests, with interesting and informative environmental educational material and interviewed scientists, protestors, trampers, former loggers and iwi to capture the story of forest logging, protests and conservation in Pureora Forest.”

Andrew says he’s found it inspiring to be a part of the NZ Tree Project.

“It’s been a privilege to climb the majestic forest trees at Pureora. The canopy is so full of plant life that it's like being part of an unexplored heavenly realm,” Andrew says.

“The challenge of climbing these forest giants is more about taking care of the plant life rather than the physical challenge of ascending and moving around. Some of the epiphytes can be decades if not centuries old so moving delicately to not dislodge any is a part of the experience.”

The University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, Professor Bruce Clarkson, has been supportive of the project from the start. “I believe this project is important, to highlight the importance of forests and trees in our ecosystems and to show that they deserve our protection. The exhibitions will hopefully make people more aware of their value of our fantastic forests.”

The New Zealand Tree Project will kick off its New Zealand tour with an exhibition at Wintec’s RAMP Gallery on Collingwood Street in Hamilton. It opens on Monday 14 December and will run through until Friday 18 December, with opening times from 12noon – 7pm Monday, and 3pm – 7pm Tuesday to Friday.

Its next appearance will be at the Hamilton Gardens Art Festival in February.