Photographer Creates Haunting Reminder of Why We Need Earth Day

Photographer Creates Haunting Reminder of Why We Need Earth Day

Now that everyone's feeds have been flooded with typical Earth Day stock imagery of beautiful rolling hills, ocean waves, and lush trees, Photographer Joe Freeman takes a darker tone and shows us the harsh reality of what future generations will see if humanity continues on the same devastating path.

Freeman’s project, “Clearcut,” is a harrowing series showcasing trees cut down around 1917, when Keechelus Lake was dammed. The land resembles nature's graveyard, with stumps acting as grave markers for the ancient trees in the valley. Joe describes the area as "disorienting and potentially treacherous," as the land is riddled with numerous pits of quicksand.

Freeman describes the area as usually being underwater throughout the year as the reservoirs fill and empty for the Keechelus Lake. The submersion has been the primary reason the stumps and roots have survived for so long. Due to an abnormal dry spell, he was able to capture this haunting landscape, which he discovered while driving home to Seattle from an emotionally draining trip documenting the aftermath of wildfires east of the Cascades.

As I was approaching Snoqualmie Pass, I noticed a valley of stumps in the distance. At first, from the highway, they appeared quite unremarkable. I actually passed the off-ramp that leads to them, but something inside me wouldn’t let it go, so at the next exit, I turned around and headed back. I guess in that sense, you could say that the location chose me.

Keechelus Lake was dammed to regulate water flow for irrigating eastern Washington. Once the dam was in place, the water level rose, drowning the trees. It is thought that the thousands of trees were cut down for their economic value.

I think the haunting, sorrowful nature of these images is what makes the most impact. In other words, it’s not so much about a story, but more so an emotional state. This state communicates itself even without any awareness of the historical context or of how clearcutting affects the entire ecosystem.

Freeman was drawn back to the captivating scene numerous times over the course of the next couple months, being particularly fascinated by their human-like qualities.

Each one seemed to possess its own unique variations, just like people. Three or four grouped together evoked a family; two, a pair of lovers or a parent and child. At times, it appeared as though the stumps were holding onto each other, huddled together in the face of a certain doom they could not prevent.

During the months, Freeman became used to the constant sound of cars passing on the Interstate, but halfway through his project, I-90 was completely shut down for construction. The silence in the valley could be described as deafening, making every sound amplified. One evening, close to dusk, he heard the primal bellows of elk communicating from one corner of the valley to the other, almost making a haunting magical song.

Such a tension calls into play our culpability as agents of change and destruction. I hope that viewers respond with an increased awareness of the fact that the land is always communicating with us. Only by acknowledging this fact can we become more responsible environmental stewards.

Be sure to check out Freeman's website and Instagram!

All images used with permission of Joe Freeman.

[via National Geographic]

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14 Comments
Brent Thale's picture

I don't see how the facts behind this article support the provocative title and intro. Those trees were clear-cut for a good reason: a dam was built to benefit the people of the region and the reservoir created by the dam would have killed the trees, so they were harvested for their valuable wood which was used likely to build people's homes. It's disingenuous to try to pretend this was done for some nefarious reason and to imply clear-cutting is a practice used today without good justification.

Presley Ann's picture

After more research and speaking with the photographer the dam at Keechelus was put in place to facilitate irrigating Eastern Washington- one of the nations' largest apple producing areas. Basically a huge area of trees were removed so a commercial apple orchard could drain properly. It's near sighted thinking like this that is causing harm to the environment.

Daniel Smith's picture

Agree wiht Brent. Clear cutting and using the lumber when the valley was going to be filled with water makes sense. The photographer needs to learn something about land use practices. If he is so worried maybe he should quit using up resources driving around?

Howard Smith's picture

I come to this Website for beautiful photography and tips on ways to take better photos. I don't come here for political commentary.

Mr Blah's picture

"Harvesting of trees". Harvest imply that you plant, care for, then collect.

In many places around the world, the cutting rate exceeds ALOT the regrowth of forest.

And this doesn't factor in the fact that OLD (150-200 yo plus) forest have MANY more advantages then younger ones (the bio diversity is gone once you clear cut).

What Zit Tooya's picture

I really like the images. Maybe a tad too dark. The one with the tree stump hanging halfway out of the hill is the best one.

Ed B.'s picture

There needs to be a "Let's Bully Tree-Hugging Pansies" Day, if you ask me.

Eric Knorpp's picture

Nice Images either way, Not interested in the political content. There are always 2 sides to the story. That is why photography provokes conversation.

Mr Blah's picture

Soooo you agree that images create conversation, but you just don't want to hear it?

David Sanden's picture

These pictures look like Civil War images of dead soldiers.

Mr Blah's picture

Ents.

So many dead Ents...

Borarum.

Kolade Agunbiade's picture

Lovely Images... This could work for a propaganda called "Buy Timber" put right next to one called "don't buy timber" which would have images of spaces highly decorated with timber and timber ornaments.... but then Timber is eco friendly and vegetarians eat too much grass... I don't know any more things... Lets just go back to the bush and eat grass with meat of course. Nice pictures.

Rob Watts's picture

The moment I saw that opening image, I thought "I bet this is Keechelus Lake". Yep, look at that. I get what the photographer is saying, but at the same time, I really love that spot and I'm glad it is there. Provides such interesting subject matter at all times of the year.

http://www.robertwattsphotography.com/Gallery/Landscapes/i-HHMfsXZ/A
http://www.robertwattsphotography.com/Gallery/Landscapes/i-fmRcktD/A
http://www.robertwattsphotography.com/Gallery/Landscapes/i-cx4xjqs/A
http://www.robertwattsphotography.com/Gallery/Landscapes/i-PgvWKzK/A

Presley Ann's picture

After more research and speaking with the photographer the dam at Keechelus was put in place to facilitate irrigating Eastern Washington- one of the nations' largest apple producing areas. Basically a huge area of trees were removed so a commercial apple orchard could drain properly. It's near sighted thinking like this that is causing harm to the environment. So every time a huge corporation decides it wants to change a landscape that's ok?