In the Time of Trees
Stuart Franklin was one of just a few to photograph the now iconic image of an unknown stranger, emerging from a vast crowd of protesters, to stand down the line of tanks leaving the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Soon after, Franklin moved away from news photojournalism into magazine features. He photographed 20 stories from National Geographic between 1990 and 2004. During this time Franklin, who had dropped out of school at 16, went back to school. He completed a degree in Geology at Oxford and went on to complete a Doctorate. His desire, when he went back to school, was to gain a better understanding of the workings of his subjects. Much of his work since has focused on the environment, landscapes, man’s place in it, and man’s effect on it.
To me there is a sense in his work of the same desire that led him back to school. There is the sense of curiosity and wonder of place, and there is the desire to collect evidence. Tiananmen Square for example has been denied, but the photographs provide proof. His photographs are not quick to reach conclusions, but focus instead on scene, juxtaposition, and flux. Details are lost in the wide views his photographs provide, but the overall change in systems, those natural and those caused by man becomes apparent. His photographs provide perspective and a sense of magnitude. As if he were directing a play he casts the characters in his photographs from a distance. Many of his photos have a thoughtful quality as if he were dressing a set. Much of his recent work has looked at the stage man has built for himself and has looked at the different scenes of tragedy, flux, and scale that happen within it. He has photographed the retreating glaciers of Europe as well as the devastation of European forest. He has photographed the development of renewable energy. He has photographed human conflict: slavery in Sudan. And he has photographed trees. Always within the sense of place and change his photographs capture, narrative remains important, and though always beautiful, his work never ignores the poignant and sad.