A Photographer's Eco-rotic Love Affair with People and Trees
What's it Like To Be in a TreeSpirit Photo?

June 25, 2006

A Photographer's Eco-rotic
Love Affair with People and Trees

By Jack Gescheidt / The TreeSpirit Project

Credit: ©2005 by Jack Gescheidt, TreeSpirit Project
Ever since I was as a boy growing up in New York State, I have loved being outdoors, climbing trees, running and feeling alive and free in the woods. Decades later, while walking in the woods of Marin County, California one day in 2003, I stumbled upon a huge, sinewy coast live oak tree. At least 250 years old, older than America itself, I felt, palpably, how deeply rooted into the earth she was. I was mesmerized seeing her huge limbs filling the sky in all directions. I was moved to tears by this one tree’s powerful presence.

This ancient being, which I’ve since taken to calling Grandmother, was calling to me, or I was yearning to connect with her, or both. Grandmother inspired me to bring people to her, to photograph them playing like children in her massive branches.

Thus began The TreeSpirit Project. TreeSpirit has taken on a life of its own since that first photograph, attracting other men and women who, like me, feel both more peaceful and alive in the presence of trees. The TreeSpirit images captivate people and inspire many to actively participate in the project or rekindle their own love affairs with trees. None are paid models. Participants are ordinary people like you who feel drawn to nature as I do.

In and around trees once again, many feel they are a part of something bigger as people often do at the ocean or under the night sky. Sometimes the photograph seems to be an excuse to have fun or an adventure in nature again. People feel moved to climb, dance, swing or recline in a tree. Some share stories of how they love to sit under one special tree, or how they spent time in trees as children. Held naked in the sky by a tree’s limbs, excited yet humbled, feeling fully alive, people overcome old fears, or reclaim confidence in their bodies, or simply enjoy safe human community in nature. Some have a personal and powerful experience difficult to put into words.

I feel honored and blessed to document these gatherings because I have found a way to share my love of trees and my lifelong passion for being outside among them, in quiet surroundings, under the sky or the stars, feeling the sun, the wind, the rain, the cold. And a larger purpose has emerged unexpectedly, at once social, spiritual, and environmental.

It is the mission of The TreeSpirit Project:

To share the love of trees as inspiration for others to more fully see, appreciate and enjoy trees, raise money to help preserve and plant trees, and act as loving stewards of trees and the natural world we are an integral part of.

Although each TreeSpirit Project image is a new and spontaneous creation, being with trees is ancient: humans and trees have been interdependent for thousands of years, and still are. We need them to survive as a species, and in modern times they need us. Many of us in technological cultures have forgotten the ancient wisdom these beings patiently hold. Among them are the simple, profound feelings of wonder and joy at being alive, rekindling in our hearts a reverence for the interconnectedness of all living creatures.

Continuing my lifelong support of environmental nonprofit organizations, 25% of the after-tax profits from sales of the limited edition fine art TreeSpirit prints go to environmental organizations (like Friends of the Urban Forest) that share TreeSpirit’s mission to preserve trees and green space inside and outside our cities.

Photographer Jack Gescheidt is the founder of the TreeSpirit Project. For more information and an online gallery of images, go to:

What's it like
To be in a TreeSpirit Photo?

Jurek Zarzycki / The TreeSpirit Project

For some participants, posing for TreeSpirit photos has become a family event. Credit: ©2005 by Jack Gescheidt, TreeSpirit Project
(September 2005) -- Most photos that include nudes are about nudes -- everything else is just an accessory. In Jack Gescheidt's TreeSpirit photos, the nudes are the accessories. In some you may not even notice the nudes at first. And in all of them you could subtract the nudes and still have a beautiful photograph. His photographs inspired me because of the spiritual messages contained in them.

As an amateur photographer I wanted to know how he works, how he organizes his shoots, and where in the world does he get these beautiful models. When a friend forwarded me an email from Jack inviting people to participate in a shoot, I was ecstatic. I had to be there! I even rescheduled my daughter's birthday party by a week to make it.

On Sunday the 25th of September I was at the appointed meeting place in Golden Gate Park over an hour in advance, which allowed me to relax a bit while watching the crowds enjoying a beautiful day. Eventually other of Jack's people showed up, and we quickly got to know one another.

In talking to the participants, a few things surprised me: there were three times as many women as men; there was a great span of ages; most people said they had never done anything like this before; and none of them said they were nudists. Many, if not most of them, like me didn't know Jack personally, only through his art.

When we joined Jack at the designated spot he was all set up and waiting for us. He himself proved to be a very nice young man, very warm and accompanied by his equally warm assistant (and girlfriend) Amy. I know many artists and most of them are self-absorbed so that's pretty much what I expected, but the opposite was the case.

I was especially surprised how appreciative Jack was for every one of the volunteers, shaking our hands with both of his. He hugged some of his old friends and was visibly delighted to see them. He told me later that he considers "a TreeSpirit photo an exchange, that none of the photos could be made without the trust and open-heartedness of the participants." In return, he "is the excuse to have an unusual and fun experience in the woods with fellow nature-lovers" like him.

Getting in the Groove in an Oak Grove
This time the subject of his picture was a downward sloping grove of oaks. Jack told us to take our places among the trees with our clothes on, to keep warm and to not attract attention. He told us that if any passerby complains or if authorities show up that he would deal with that and not to worry.

We all selected a branch or a tree and made ourselves comfortable. Some people climbed trees with the skill and agility of monkeys, some with fear and trembling. Jack was definitely in the monkeys group. He would climb some trees to see if there was a good spot for someone or not. There was a great amount of camaraderie among the volunteers and everybody got the help they needed to scale the first branch or get properly positioned.

Some folks did not want to climb and positioned themselves on the ground. Jack said that he did not want to choreograph people and he let them assume positions that they wanted. He said that he just wanted for people to feel one with the trees, to get close to them, to commune with them. To this end, when he saw someone in an awkward and uncomfortable position, he would suggest a better one.

20 Naked Souls Communing in the Trees
That took a while, but eventually all 20 of us were placed, relaxed and communing. He asked us to disrobe and come back to our places in the trees. Some folks were so high on the trees they just dropped their clothes down. Others needed assistance to get back to their perches and some of the naked volunteers became ladders for others. That was quite a sight!

I looked around and was amazed by the beauty of what I saw. Next to me was the wonderful Darshana from the Meridian Institute. If you ever meet her, ask her about the meaning of her name. One young lady was reclined on a nearly horizontal branch with her long blonde hair cascading to the ground. One muscular young man looked like a part of a tree, another lady looked like a fairy... There was a gorgeous butt hanging nearly over me like a ripe fruit.…

I was aching to use my own camera and was so sorry that there would only be one picture from this enchanted grove. Every angle offered completely new and beautiful sights. Oh, how I wanted to take pictures!

Once we all took our positions and settled down Jack started shooting. No flash, no lamps, just natural light. It was a bit dark in that grove by then, the setting sun occasionally throwing patches of bright light among us. I could hear the shutter of Jack's camera going off each time. We all tried to be motionless despite the cold and mosquitoes. Note to self for the next shoot: bring mosquito repellent! While shooting, Jack was giving us encouragement to accept the cold, stay motionless and to feel the trees.

I lay face down on a nearly horizontal trunk close to the ground. It was overgrown with ivy and I put my cheek (of my FACE!) on the bark.

I was super excited about the whole thing but suddenly I relaxed and experienced an amazing thing that would be hard to describe. I suddenly "felt" the tree. Something that I think could not happen if I had my clothes on. I felt a living thing, as if I was holding on to an arm or leg of a gentle giant. I was spiritually aware of the juices moving in that limb, of cells dividing, of its miniscule growth. The feeling was so sudden and so strong that I nearly jumped off my host. Then I kind of snuggled up stronger.

Eventually I became uncomfortable and needed to change positions and I heard Jack saying that this is OK to do. When he was done I witnessed another incredible spectacle: all the naked people coming down from the trees and leaving the grove.

It was an incredible sight to see naked people helping one another off the branches. Jack showed everyone the little preview picture on a Canon digital camera (he sometimes uses this in addition to the medium format film camera he uses to make the TreeSpirit photographs). Jack told us that as a thank you we all would receive a print of today's picture (we had all signed a model release form beforehand). There was some socializing and many people wanted to talk to Jack. He accommodated all and did not leave until everyone else did.

This was an unforgettable experience for me! I only wish someone took a picture of me taking Brucie off the tree and then carrying her on my shoulders to the trail, both of us nude!

Reprinted with permission from the TreeSpirit website.

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