New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Robert Voit
New Trees
R. Wayne Parsons

Technological change provides new material for photographers. German photographer Robert Voit exploits this fact with his series of color images from around the world of cellular phone antenna towers designed to look like trees. Voit, who studied at the Dusseldorf Art Academy where the legendary Bechers emphasized photography documenting the industrial landscape, continues this tradition, though with a focus on new technology rather than that of the 19th century that captivated the Bechers.

Voit uses a consistent approach throughout the series: the “tree” is centered in the frame and shown in its totality. Then context is provided by the surrounding environment whether residential or industrial landscapes, or undeveloped land. The need to place the antennas above the surrounding environment implies that these new trees are significant features dominating the landscape. Only partially successful attempts to mitigate this technological intrusion are attained by designing the towers to resemble surrounding species; pines, palms, cypresses are only a few of those pictured. The success of the attempted illusion varies. One has to look closely to determine that an outsize saguaro cactus is fake, as the antennas are concealed within the structure and no artificial leaves attest to the trickery. Other trees have the antenna panels clearly positioned in the crown and are more noticeably abnormal.

One question raised by these photographs is why “they” –- the industrial designers and planners responsible for this appropriation of the environment –- chose to place cell phone antennas on fake trees rather than on structures designed as towers to be recognized as towers. Surely there are armies of designers who would have leaped at a chance to create towers of aesthetic interest in their own right rather than attempting to use nature as a crutch.

If there is a limitation to the aesthetic success of these images it follows from the material itself. How often do we want to look at images that document structures not as interesting as the objects they imitate?

Robert Voit
New Trees

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Wednesday, January 13 to
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
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