I found out about Colleen Mullins’s work when I was looking into the folks who would be speaking at the SPE NW regional conference last month. Mullins didn’t present her own work (she instead gave an awesome talk about photo book publishing), but when I saw her series Elysium on her website, I was drawn in. The photos are poignant and at times humorous, and the message is hard-hitting. Elysium, a decade-long examination of the urban forest of New Orleans, documents the state of city’s trees since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused a 70% canopy loss. “The trees of New Orleans have since suffered unbelievable indignities at the hands of man,” writes the artist.

From the artist’s statement: In discussing his work 7000 Oak Trees (7000 Eichen), Joseph Beuys said, “The intention of such a tree-planting event is to point up the transformation of all life, of society, and of the whole ecological system.” The treatment of the urban forest of New Orleans in the last decade of recovery from Hurricane Katrina, points to the strange relationship we have with nature as urban dwellers.

We seem to hold a cultural belief that if it is an Eden we planted, we have eminent domain over the territory it occupies. While sometimes their deformities can be perceived as comical, the impact of this loss will be faced by New Orleans residents for decades to come. Absent street signs, and often the houses themselves, these trees were frequently the only signifiers to tell me that I’d returned to a site to photograph. Imagine if the tree was not a marker for a photograph, but a marker for your home.

Visit artist's site: colleenmullins.net