Rita Leistner: The Tree Planters
Rita Leistner, Matthew Muzzatti, 2016, photo. Courtesy of the artist.

Rita Leistner: The Tree Planters

Two Rivers Gallery, Prince George, BC - To July 17

by Michael Turner

Among the summer jobs available to post-secondary students, tree planting couldn’t be better timed to fit between the winter and fall semesters. If you have a good crew boss, good weather and are prepared to work hard, you can squirrel away enough money to get you through the school year, and have a good time doing so. At least that’s what the ads say. But as with most things in life, there is the unexpected, and Rita Leistner, a former planter and war zone photojournalist, is there for all of it.

The Tree Planters is the result of a four-year project that had the award-winning photographer “embedded” within a Northern BC planting crew as it worked each day to meet its quota. Although the aim was to document the workers’ experiences, her photos give the landscape equal weight. The result is less a picture of the heroic planter conquering the landscape, like those tree-falling loggers of ere, than a more complementary portrayal: the tree planter as healer, someone in sync with the land and respectful of its lessons.

In addition to photographs and videos, the exhibition includes a dedicated room where viewers can experience a recreation of the night sky. Not just any sky, but a sky only attainable after bumpy rides down forest service roads. A sky that comes to life after a day’s work under a heat dome or an atmospheric river. Indeed, a sky so restorative that, once met, it will return you to Leistner’s pictures with new eyes, and a new understanding of what it means to bend to the earth before us.


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