Fred Brashear, Endemic Treasures
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[21Feb22 and 19Apr22] This image, as was the case with the previous evaluation choice, was first encountered through Michael Rababy's California Love – A Visual Mixtape. The book, in turn was learned of through a review by Andy Romanoff in the daily blog from L’Œil de la Photographie for 19th March 2021. This review linked to Brashear's web site (Brashear n.d.#1), where the story behind the image was explained.
Biographical information on Brashear is difficult to find: his web site only discloses that he is based in Southern California, graduated from California State University in 2013 and his " current and ongoing project focuses on documenting the environmental impact of climate change and human encroachment into the Mojave Desert landscape" (Brashear n.d.#2). It seems likely that he is Californian and in his 30s.
The image for evaluation is a vertical format, colour photograph of a (parochially) unusual tree (in fact a Joshua tree, Yucca brevifolia, native to the Mojave desert (McAfee, 2021)). The tree is in the middle distance and fills the width of the image. The horizon is below the centre of the photograph with the tree in light brown soil, absent of vegetation. The sky is a pale blue. possibly with clouds and there might be mountains in the distance (the background is indistinct).
The image is printed on very coarse paper with wide, uneven margins and herein lies the mystery and magic of this series: they are printed on handmade paper from a felled Joshua tree, " destined for refuse" (Brashear n.d. #1). This constitutes a unique personal intervention in the normal printing practice.
Brashear states that the purpose of the project is to draw attention to arboricide and the despoiling of the natural habitat for "capitalistic gains".
There is a danger of the series being judged a gimmick if it were not an aesthetic success, irrespective of the paper, but the set of tree portraits are elegantly proportioned and well-judged.
The image is formed on the paper through "a lift transfer process" (Brashear n.d.#1). A number a such processes are described on the Alternative Photography web site, of particular interest, the acrylic gel lift and transfer (Wilks, 2012). This implementation seems annoyingly modern: one of the Victorian wet plate treatments would have been more holistically pleasing, although the paper might not be robust enough to survive the process. A Joshua Tree wooden frame might compensate. But this is a wholly subjective judgment, as is the majority of every art evaluation.
On balance, the photograph, however it was achieved, has a pleasing ecological symmetry to it that is in keeping with Brashear's purpose.