The Oak Trees in New Orleans Are As Grand As Any House in the Garden District

When you move to New Orleans, or stay for an extended period of time, one of the first things you begin to notice—one of the everyday pleasures of life here—are the Live Oaks. These amazing trees have an architectural presence. They reach to the sky, like living buildings, huge and thick, with large, twisty branches, forming leafy canopies over the streets lucky enough to have them as neighbors. In Audubon Park, close to where I live, there’s a collection of them that have an almost prehistoric feel. Strolling through is like visiting a sculpture park. Each tree is an improbable explosion of form. Branches run perpendicular, for feet at time, only to dip down, retake root in the ground, and then resprout, like a subdivision of the original tree. These gravity-defying limbs—every bit as structurally challenging as anything by Frank Gehry—prove difficult to resist. They invite exploration, especially by the young (and the young at heart).

Most natives have a similar love affair with the wondrous trees. They’re woven as tightly into the fabric of the city as Creole cottages and second line parades. They remain for many a source of beauty and inspiration. “When we were told to come up with ideas for our senior projects, I decided to focus on something that has always captivated me,” says Scott Lyman Ortkiese, a graduating senior at Lusher School in New Orleans (and full confession: a classmate of my son). “The oak tree, a symbol of New Orleans and of strong connections, immediately jumped to mind.” Over the course of an eight month period, Ortkiese took scores of black and white images (most were taken in Audubon Park). Here’s a look at the series he calls Quercus. The entire project can be found here—Martin C. Pedersen




“It’s funny; I didn’t really think about how shooting through the year, how the changing seasons, would impact the photos, but clearly they did.”




“Most of the trees I shot were in Audubon Park. It’s pretty awesome that such an incredible subject matter was so easy to find. I guess it’s a New Orleans thing.”




“Sometimes I would go out with a precise plan for when and how I would shoot a particular tree. Other times, I would just go for a walk with my camera and see what I got at the end of the day.”




“Once I had all of the photos done, I dodged and burned them in order to get that high-contrast black and white style that was so characteristic of Ansel Adams.”


The photographer would like to thank the media arts program at Lusher Charter School, as well as his instructors, Mitch Soileau and Amy Sanderson. 


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