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Broadback Valley in Canada, 2018.
“Borealis: Trees and the people of the Northern forest” by Jeroen Taikens and Jelle Brandt Cortius.
Ovre Park in Norway, 2016.
Boreal tree #27 in Scotland, 2017.

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The Anchorage Museum’s exhibition: ‘Borealis: Life in the Woods’ (thru September 25, 2022) displays painterly/tonal photographs by Netherland’s Jeroen Toirkens with a companion catalog/diary: ‘Borealis: Trees and People of the Northern Forest’ by Toirkens and journalist/correspondent Jelle Brandt Corstius. Recently, Toirkens conducted a photography class at Kincaid Park about close-looking at trees as figures, which like models need to be positioned into a flatwork, as does the light source.
Broadback Valley in Canada, 2018.

The Boreal Forest or Taiga in Russian, which forms a ring around the Arctic, covers 17.5% of the world’s land surface. It’s called the carbon sink as it retains 44% of the world’s CO2 in all its ‘terrestrial vegetation’ (15). Only 12% of the Boreal Forest is protected with 15 billion trees cut annually. The forest is half of what it was millennia ago. Corstius writes, “Trees are fantastic. Just try to imagine a machine that takes CO2 from the air, produces oxygen, stores carbon, filters the air, makes clouds and rain, and works like a kind of air conditioning unit….All this machine requires is sunlight and water (19).” Global Warming is causing ‘dry lightning’ resulting in frequent/expansive fires and massive releases of arboreal CO2 and soot, which accelerates melting when it lands on snow and ice (47).
Ironically, some species like the North American Jack Pine actually need fires to open their cones for reproduction (45). Placing trees too closely to attain the greatest yield of straight lumber is not good forest management. Trees planted, that don’t shed needles annually, as do the Larch, are often darker green, thus absorbing more heat. Disturbance to undergrowth by droughts or tractor treads also impacts the Climate, as moist peat bogs and swamps store twice as much CO2 as forests (45). Invasive bugs like Southcentral Alaska’s Spruce Bark Beetle devastate acres of Boreal Forest because they can better survive the milder winters (15). Simulating Climate Change, researchers at the University of Sapporo heat patches of ground, analyzing changes to vegetation. Discoveries: Dwarf Bamboos are overtaking Pines because they don’t need a snowy winter, and air-polluting volcanic ash makes good fertilizer (53). Three photographs here express Toirkens’ visual narrative about trees as living entities, sometimes abused, often overlooked, but soldiering on benefitting Earth and humanity.

Canada, Broadback Valley, ‘The Cree’ (January 2018) depicts a truck loaded with felled trees. This photograph images brutal cold as it integrates a bleached sky with mid-ground snow, kicked up by the moving truck. White-out conditions contrasting with the dark tree bark form a paradox–decimation of lands benefitting the economy versus preserving forests for the planet’s health. For eons, Indigenous peoples have forest-subsisted. Clear cutting has reduced animal populations, vital for survival, and forced tribes to sell lands to logging companies at bargain prices when the fur trapping industry plummeted. Working with Greenpeace, the Cree are preserving lands forbidden to be logged (19).

Norway, Øvre Pasvik, ‘The Loggers’ (May 2016) depicts a lone tree outside a cabin. The foreground is Norway and the mid-ground beyond the river is Russia. The lifesaving ring which hangs on the cabin might be needed should someone fall into the chilly river, but also becomes a trope for resuscitating détente when thinking about Russia’s War with Ukraine. In this remote border-patrolled region, Norway and Russia’s government employees interchange to survive harsh winters, as they combine subsistence with store-bought goods. While there remain virgin trees inaccessible by roads, logging is big business. Over 800,000 Russians work in the forest industry as one-fifth of the world’s trees are grown in Russia, more than Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.
Ovre Park in Norway, 2016.
Like Russia’s oil and gas reserves, its paper products are in high demand throughout Europe (35). Corstius writes, “ It is an illusion to think that we can live without logging….wood is a fantastic and sustainable material if it is grown and used responsibly….Worldwide, 13 million people work in the wood industry (31).”

Glen Affric Scotland, ‘Boreal Tree #27’ (February 2017) depicts windswept Highlands, reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes’ mysteries, or Brontë sisters’ novels. Toirkens’ lens pushes a cloudless/sunless sky onto two-toned desolate moors of snow and scrubby vegetation. A lone tree stands amid underbrush, while one deer forages the heath. ‘The Queen’ starring Helen Mirren recreates Balmoral’s lifestyle, which gives viewers a feel for inhabiting Scotland’s vastness/remoteness. In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, much of these forests were cut for shipbuilding. The introduction of sheep and the overpopulation of Red Deer, all grazing/noshing, continue to prevent young trees from maturing. Landowners rent their estates to hunting parties, which prefer barren country as do hikers. Since 1989 the Scottish Government working with ‘Trees for Life’ has planted and fenced 1.5 million trees (25).
Boreal tree #27 in Scotland, 2017.

Much Global Warming imagery and writing focus on the destruction resulting from denial and greed. Toirkens’ Boreal Forest photographs pay homage to the beauty that hopefully will be better realized and protected. Rodgers and Hart’s Broadway melody ‘Mountain Greenery’ (1926) is sung by two lovers preferring to dwell in a woodsy cottage over a gritty city. Trees are synonymous with healthy spaces and can be taken for granted even though they provide needed shade while adding texture to stark neighborhoods.
Corstius writes, “For a long time, people have seen the taiga as a kind of wasteland from which you could take what you wanted….The effects of global warming are only too apparent in the boreal zone (15,19).” The Boreal Forest is huffing-puffing to do its job given over-logging, invasive species, fires, and droughts which raise Earth’s temperature and change the planet. Toirkens’ photos are a warning that we must understand tree conservation, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision that ignores the severity of Global Warming.

Mini Sleuth: ‘Borealis, Trees, and People of the Northern Forest’ by Jeroen Toirkens and Jelle Brandt Corstius is at the Anchorage Museum Shop and Amazon.
“Borealis: Trees and the people of the Northern forest” by Jeroen Taikens and Jelle Brandt Cortius.

Jean Bundy, MFA, Ph.D. is a writer/painter living in Anchorage. She is a VP at AICA-Int. and serves on Governance for Pictor Gallery, NYC.
Email: 38144@alaska.net
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