The Story of The TreeSpirit Project and A Kickstarter Campaign
Editor’s note: We first came across the TreeSpirit Project a few years ago, and as treehuggers ourselves, we loved it. Now its creator, Jack Gescheidt, has the opportunity to turn these amazing photos into a beautiful book (printed on 100% recycled paper) and to thus share this inspiring project with even more of the world! Read Jack’s story below on why he started it and why he’s at a crucial point for continuing this project. Please support TreeSpirit by donating and sharing the Kickstarter campaign!
Guest blog by: Jack Gescheidt
I agonized with a dear friend before writing this. He urged me to reveal to people where I am in my life right now, for real. With my TreeSpirit Project, and the current Kickstarter campaign for a TreeSpirit Book of my naked-people-in-trees photographs I’ve been making for over 12 years. It’s my labor of nature-love.
I told him, “No way. Too dangerous, too vulnerable. People will run the other way from a grown man who’s in this situation. And one smart enough to know he’s responsible for creating it. It’s all on me.”
Today, we’re ½-way into our 30-day Kickstarter campaign for this coffee table book, “We Are Trees.” If funded, the book will be FILLED, will OVERFLOW with photographs of naked, vulnerable (there’s that word again) people playing among trees, behaving like joyous children again, all over the country.
We’ve raised about $20,000 so far. That’s a good sum of money, and I’m grateful for all the pledges we’ve received so far. But it’s far short of the $85,000 we need to design, print, and ship the big, beautiful 11×14” coffee table book I have planned. It’s a small print run AND — need I even say this?! — made without killing any trees to make the book. Meaning it will be printed on a great 100% post-consumer-waste (PCW) recycled paper now available to people who give a damn about our beautiful natural world. And the magnificent forests we humans have only HALF destroyed in our ignorance, greed and disconnection from nature. Don’t value it, don’t love it, and you may destroy it.
For heaven’s sake, it’s a book of BIG of wild-ass(es) photographs of naked people communing with trees! How crazy and exuberant and joyous and NECESSARY is this kind of caution-to-the-wind celebration of NATURE and PLAY in this disconnected day and age? After 12 years of focusing my lens and my heart on trees, I can’t imagine ever cutting one down again. So much of our tree killing and deforestation is no longer necessary, just old, horrific habit.
Back to vulnerability. Again. It keeps coming up. The dark, messy, shameful secret that I don’t want to reveal. And I must reveal. Right now, as I type, hammers are pounding away on my office ceiling. My beloved partner of 13 years, whom I’ll call Jamie to protect her privacy, has decided to do the only thing that makes financial sense — sell the house. Our home. Where our two beloved rescue kitties, Mongo and Boo, have settled in and opened us to us like no cats in our lives ever have before. Boo climbs on Jamie’s lap at night and puts her paws around her neck. Never seen a cat do that before. Mongo now sleeps on my pillow at night, a furry nightcap. I wake at 3am, rub his belly and he purrs me back to sleep. We think they’re especially affectionate right now because of all the nail-pounding and floor-sanding and walls-painting going on. To prep the house we love for sale. So Jamie can move to where it’s not so expensive to live; to where you can get the twice the house for half the money.
It’s her house, not mine. I’ve never focused on money, which is why it’s not OURS. I don’t own a house, or have an urgent need to own one. I just like living here. But I can’t pay my share of living here. I haven’t paid my fair share in years. Which puts the burden on my Jamie. And that’s the problem. As Andre said in My Dinner With Andre, “I can live in my art, but not in my life.” Shame. Unmanliness. Get off your ass. Do something, or at least do something different, or differently, fer Chrissakes.
It’s not like I haven’t tried. But I’m really, really good at something no one else in the world is, or wants to do the way I do it. Which is expressing my huge freakin’ love for trees and the woods and wild places with my camera. All while playing Pied Piper with others who instantly feel that it’s safe to make naked photos with me. And fun, too.
My love for wooded places has been in me, part of me, always. Since I was a little kid growing up in upstate New York. But now, in my 50’s, and with what’s going on now, this week, it’s welling up in me in uncontrollable ways. Vulnerable ways I can’t tamp down back into the shadows so I don’t have to feel…powerless. When it comes to playing and making art in nature, well, THAT comes naturally. Powerfully.
But SELLING them, aye, there’s the rub. That’s a different skill set, one I’ve increasingly worked to figure out. (They say when bankers get together, they talk about art. And when artists get together, they talk about money.) These days I WANT to focus on money because it’s the only way I can keep making these photos that say, again and again, “I-love-trees-can’t-you-see-how-amazing-trees-are-too?!”
But for too many years I did NOT focus on the money of it. Artists call it paying the bills. It’s not like I haven’t tried, but there is trying and there is succeeding. Perhaps I have refused to really turn and face it, like an alcoholic refusing to admit he has a drinking problem. Until, in my case, I’m about to lose it all: the woman I love, the house, the home, the cats, and the deer, raccoons, rabbits, ravens, foxes, hawks and banana slugs who visit our magical home in the woods.
I was born in New York City. Go figure. But we had lots of weekends in the country until age eleven because my mother…my mother…was the first woman I know who talked to trees. And she grew up in Brooklyn. Perhaps it’s in the blood, not the borough you’re born in. I spent twelve more years in NYC again as an “adult” with a career in advertising that paid well. But my soul was dying. I hadn’t found my calling.
I sure have now. It’s expressing my boundless, constant and overflowing love for trees and forests and nature. Because of how I feel when I am near trees, under them, smelling them, seeing them, touching them. It’s one thing I can always rely on: the feelings I have, the serenity and joy I feel, when I’m with them.
I started “TreeSpirit” at age 43, combining my feelings for them with my skills as a photographer born to professional photographer, Mom and Dad. Add my love for people and the joy I get bringing them to trees. TreeSpirit is a way for them, for us, to play like little kids again, running around and exploring the outdoors. (Remember that?)
The TreeSpirit Book is my effort to do two things at once. First and foremost, to show the world this giant collection of people-loving-trees photos. I hope it inspires people to go out and play among trees again themselves. I know nobody’s ever seen a collection of photos like this because I haven’t and I grew up knee-deep in photo books. Tolstoy said, “Art…is the transmission of feeling experienced by the artist.” Every artist has her own unique way of doing this. TreeSpirit is mine. How lucky for me that many people enjoy the photos, and tell me so. Not every artist is so fortunate. And yet…and yet. So, the second thing: earn a living. Nature love don’t pay da bills. Or can it? Make a book and offer it to the people, Sherlock! (I tell myself these obvious things in odd ways.)
Mind you, a New York City publisher approached me, and offered me a book! Awesome! But after three one-hour conversations it was painfully obvious we had very different visions for it. He wanted 99 pages. I said I needed more for twelve years of photos, that I wanted to wow people with the sheer phantasmagoria of them all, seen at once. He said 11” square. I said the book should be vertical to fit my rectangular images. And then I went for, uh, broke, and asked to discuss just the possibility of using recycled paper. Y’know, cause, like, it’s a book illustrating the beauty of these underappreciated creatures that surround us and sustain us. And we take for granted their inspiration, their oxygen production, their carbon sequestration, their anthropogenic climate change mitigating…don’t get me started. No, I didn’t say all this, I’m not that clueless or undiplomatic. But he took my question as a criticism of his industry. And that, as they say, was that.
And the Kickstarter campaign was born! So here I am, feeling excited out of my unabashed treehugger’s skin. And also deeply ashamed it took me so long to decide to make an uncompromised book of tree love and offer it directly to people. And here we are, in the typical Kickstarter mid-campaign lull, wondering whether we can get enough tree people eyeballs on this project, and its goal to get more eyeballs and hands and hearts on trees.
Regardless of what happens, I’m all in. I am today uncertain about my home, my furry family (we don’t have kids), and most of all my beloved woman whom I’ve driven away. She’s put up with my inability to pay my way in the world for over a decade. I’ve caused her great suffering from this, and still she loves me and tells me so. Which makes me love her all the more. She just can’t be dragged down by it, this, me. For this I will forever be full of regret. But, always, I know good can come from the strife. And one thing I’ve gotten clear about. Crystal clear. TreeSpirit will continue, must continue, because it’s in me, and always has been. I am devoting my life to sharing this love in me, no matter what.
And that means, dear reader, I’m making my book of tree adoration no matter what. If you’re moved by the beauty of trees, or by the plight of trees in our modern world, or by this many people who care for trees, then support this book, now, on Kickstarter. Please don’t feel sorry for me, I don’t want that. But if you’d like to help make this unique vision, a TreeSpirit photo book, come to life, then please give what feels right, and join our community. We Are Trees, connected, all of us.
– Jack Gescheidt, Founder
San Geronimo, CA