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.
“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 everyday. Who knows, that tree on the corner could be your new best friend.