Words & photos :: Rita Leistner.
Renowned multidisciplinary artist Rita Leistner has completed her epic five-years-in-the-making “perfect Canadian hat trick” FOREST FOR THE TREES, TREE PLANTERS AND ENCHANTED FORESTS: AN EXHIBITION, A FEATURE DOCUMENTARY FILM AND A BOOK — the culmination of four years immersion in the Canadian bush with a camp of 100 tree planters, it’s an extensive account of the state of the Canadian silviculture industry and this storied subculture. This month, Leistner has launched the Advance Sales of the book on Indiegogo, through July 22nd.
Leistner’s photographs are captured using high-resolution digital cameras and a battery-powered electronic flash under extreme conditions in order to evoke the toil and athleticism of tree planters. Grappling with themes of disaster, recovery, community, and resilience, FOREST FOR THE TREES: THE TREE PLANTERS examines the hardship and opportunity of the Anthropocene.
The Tree Planters, photographed in the remote Canadian wilderness in the aftermath of logging, is a series of un-staged live action/sports portraits of the men and women who are reforesting Canada one tree at a time. Canadian tree planting is unique in the world. It is back-breaking, piece-work paid labour — a hybrid combination of high-intensity sport and industrial labour that requires technical finesse and remarkable physical and mental endurance. Most people are surprised to learn that an experienced worker can plant over 2,000 trees in a single day. Photographer Rita Leistner set out to create heroic portraits of tree planters as a way of bringing to light to the future of the world’s forests by focusing on forest workers in the aftermath of logging. Rita herself planted over a half a million trees from 1984 to 1993.
High production tree planting is only in its second generation (it became necessary with the rise of mechanical logging in the late 1960s). Today, tree planting is at a crossroads: the crucial moment at which it is transitioning from being something securely within the forestry industry to a kind of Anthropocene climate change symptom and solution.
According to a major scientific study in 2019 and headlines around the world, planting billions of trees is one of the most feasible and affordable ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere to tackle climate change. Who is going to plant those billions of trees? It won’t be done by a smattering of volunteers planting a few trees a day. Canada’s tree planters are without peers in the international world of high production manual tree planting and are capable of planting upwards of two to five thousand or more trees PER DAY. If tree planting were an Olympic sport, Canadian tree planters would win all the Gold Medals.
FOREST FOR THE TREES: THE TREE PLANTERS is a bi-lingual in French and English stunning 250-page hardcover photography book with 160 colour photographs. The book is divided into three main sections: It opens with large double-page spreads of Leistner’s iconic The Tree Planters, followed by a “documentary section” with over 100 never before seen photographs of life at work and in the intimate setting of the camp, followed by the magical and eerie Enchanted Forests, which debuted at Art Toronto in 2019.
The Indiegogo campaign—available here—opens with a book trailer featuring Leistner and McKellar, followed by pre-publication discounted book prices and multiple tiers of support, ranging from a single signed copy of the book to special “Book Editions” of never-before-available smaller sizes of prints (8” x 10” and 12” x 18”) from her twin epics THE TREE PLANTERS and ENCHANTED FORESTS, which debuted in 2017 and 2019 at the Stephen Bulger Gallery and Art Toronto. The work serves as a testament to a foundational aspect of Canada’s role as a leader in sustainable forest management, as well as a youth culture which has underwritten an essential aspect of Canadian national identity for three generations. These smaller prints only available in a special limited “Book Edition” are an opportunity to purchase this seminal and unique work at much lower price point than the large format photographs that comprise the official edition.