Tree of the week: 'This fallen elm looks like a Man Ray nude'

Gregory Robinson

Photographer Sandrine Joseph fell in love with this fallen elm tree on one of her daily walks around Hampstead Heath in north London. She was captivated by how much it looks like the figure of a woman. “It was winter when I took the picture. The light was perfect, there was no one around and I didn’t have to shoot many pictures to get the perfect shot,” she says. “The tree is dead but at the same time it feels timeless. It makes me think of petrified wood.” She decided to name the photo Lying because “it looks like a woman’s body lying and at the same time it is a lie”.

Sandrine, 53, passes the tree roughly once a week depending on the route she takes through the heath. She often sees people sitting on it or walking or jogging past the tree without paying it any attention. She would love it if visitors would walk through the heath as if they were at an exhibition or a gallery. “The tree is an amazing sculpture created by nature, which reminded me of Man Ray’s reclining model in Primat de la Matière sur la Pensée. There’s a melancholy about it, like an ancient statue forgotten in the middle of the woods.”

All of Sandrine’s art revolves around trees and she has a website dedicated to Hampstead Heath, showing the hidden beauty she finds within trees. She has included the image of the fallen elm in a series called Mother Nature alongside other pictures of trees that look like women’s bodies. All trees are “genuine masterpieces” to her and she is constantly inspired by how they change during the year. As well as taking photos, she likes to write poems and stories about nature. “I know almost all of the trees on the heath. I’ve got other favourites, some more hidden, others more obvious.”

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Sandrine was born in Paris and moved to Hampstead with her husband and son in 2005. She visited the area for the first time in 2000. “When I discovered Hampstead Heath, I felt like I belonged there,” she says. Ever since she was a child, Sandrine has enjoyed being around trees. “I feel this connection in my heart and my brain.”

Between 2016 and 2018, Sandrine and her family lived in Brooklyn. But north London remains one of her favourite spots in the world. “There is something special about this place, especially when you think about all the artists that live here. We are very lucky to have this space.”

Sandrine’s love of nature has inspired many of her friends to take pictures of interesting trees when they go on holiday. In Paris, her friends can’t go to any parks during lockdown because they are closed. They look forward to her daily posts from Hampstead Heath. “For me, taking photos of trees has become a meditative way to connect people to nature. It makes you look at the trees in a different way as shapes, or as sculptures and pieces of art.”

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