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Calder & Lawson Gallery

New Zealand Tree Project

The New Zealand Tree Project is an innovative film and photography project that shares imagery of majestic trees and native forests from viewpoints that are rarely experienced.

OPEN 27 JULY – 28 SEPT 2018
Mon-Fri, 9.00AM – 5.00PM

The New Zealand Tree Project is an innovative film and photography project blending adventure, history, conservation and art. The brainchild of a photographer, a tree climber and a scientist, the project was realised in 2015 with the goal to create New Zealand’s first tree portrait and share imagery of majestic trees and native forests from viewpoints that are rarely experienced.

What is a tree portrait? It is a composite image built from many different photographs that blend to show a large forest tree without the distortion that is normally experienced from a ground-level perspective. This world-first portrait of a 41 metre-tall rimu tree (Dacrydium cupressinum) is the centrepiece of the New Zealand Tree Project. This spectacular tree lives in the dense temperate rainforest of Pureora Forest, near Lake Taupō in the central North Island. It is usually impossible to see or photograph an entire forest tree because they tower so far above us and are surrounded by a dense understorey of smaller trees. This challenging situation presented a tantalising opportunity for the team, who set out in late 2014 to find the perfect subject for their tree portrait.

The New Zealand Tree Project team chose Pureora Forest because it is known to have an unusual density of very large podocarp trees and after many days of searching they found a stunning rimu that was completely visible through a tree-fall clearing. Over 4 weeks the team worked with a specially designed camera rig that was suspended from the canopy, to photograph the magnificent tree thousands and thousands of times. The final portrait was created by carefully blending the finest 65 images from the larger photo collection. The end result is a never-seen-before, extraordinarily high quality, high resolution image from a level viewpoint without distortion.

The talented team of climbers spent more than 100 hours at over 40 metres up in the boughs of giant rimu and kahikatea trees. Here they were privileged to experience the unexplored wonders of the forest canopy. Climbing to the canopy revealed many incredible plants, insects and birds that spend their entire lives far above the ground. Towards the end of summer, beautiful native orchids festooned every canopy branch in sight, creating a beautiful setting with aromatic white flowers and raucous kākā screeching during dawn and dusk.

While working on the project the team were inspired and moved by the stories that were shared with them. Not many people know about the incredible and dramatic events that have taken place in Pureora so they decided to make a short documentary to capture the amazing natural and human history of this area. "On the Shoulders of Giants" shares the raw perspectives of loggers, iwi, scientists and conservationists. It journeys through the history of Pureora, from forest discovery, degradation and then to protection before finishing on a high from the tree tops with never-seen-before footage from New Zealand’s forest canopy.

A 1.2m print of the rimu portrait is now proudly displayed in the Calder & Lawson Gallery along with the documentary and other stunning images from the New Zealand Tree Project. This exhibition brings New Zealand’s forest wonders to a wide audience and shares a taste of the beauty and majesty that can be experienced in our own native bush.

Arborist Andrew Harrison in his tree-top office Arborist Andrew Harrison in his tree-top office
Arborist Andrew Harrison in his tree-top office Cutting-edge photography set ups were used to capture never-seen-before forest images