Colleen Mullins

Untitled (5/2007), from Elysium

Untitled (5/2007), from Elysium
Untitled (5/2007), from Elysium

Untitled (5/2007), from Elysium | Media List


Statement

In the case of the urban forest, management concerns (budget-liability-disease) over philosophic ones (what is natural-who was here first) take natural precedence.
It is estimated that Hurricane Katrina took 70% of the urban canopy of New Orleans. But it is not that damage on which my photographs gaze, but on the damage at the hands of man, that has followed. A majority of this injury to the remaining 30% of the urban forest was caused by the Army Corps of Engineers trying to beat paths into the slowly draining city. However grand the perceived necessity, the swath they cut was liberal. The Corps was followed by the utility companies, who cut great chunks out of the middle of trees to make easy the work of re-powering the city and it’s surrounding parishes. Additionally, homeowners have had to make difficult decisions about their trees as well, sometimes cutting away massive, low-hanging branches that blocked the way of the trailer they need in their driveway or yard, to live. Demolition crews often take healthy trees down, making easier the job of removing the broken remains of houses. Sometimes crews girdle the trees by stacking the debris around them curbside, then use them for leverage in waste removal. And finally there was the widely reported clear-cutting of trees near levees, again by the Corps of Engineers, in order to more easily clear away the ruins.
The site of the most over-imaged disaster in modern history, New Orleans is an interesting case study of our strange relationship with nature as urban dwellers. The unending battle against weeds, removal of the invasive species planted at our own hands, the use of extraordinary amounts of water to sustain plants ill-suited to our environs, are balanced against our cultural belief that if it is an Eden we planted, we have eminent domain over the territory it occupies. New Orleans—so well known for it’s moss draped Louisiana Live Oaks, stretching their great twisting arms, up to 50’ on either side of their massive trunks and undulating roots—had an urban forest that was a part of our visual collective consciousness. The drastic nature of the cuts to these trees becomes almost a vivid caricature of our own lesser infractions in our own communities.