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New book from Daylight Books: The Pines by Chuck Hemard
Highlands County, Florida, 2013.

NEW YORK, NY.- Prior to the onset of European settlement in America, the longleaf pine was the keystone species in a landscape mosaic that covered some 90 million acres of southern coastal plain from Virginia to east Texas. In the late 19th and early 20th century the pine was all but wiped away by human action at an industrial scale. In a report issued in 1995 by the USDI National Biological Service in Washington, D.C., the longleaf pine forest type was designated as one of the most endangered forested ecosystems in the country.

American photographer Chuck Hemard grew up in the middle of the pine belt of southern Mississippi where as a child he would rake longleaf pine needles, collect them in wheelbarrows, and move them to the landscaping beds around his yard. The imprint of this landscape on his identity would later inform his work as a professional photographer.

In 2010, Hemard began his seven-year photographic study of the longleaf pine trees of the Deep South and the landscape that supports them. While wandering in the forest, waiting for the light to filter through the trees, he started making what he refers to as "portraits" of individual trees. He gave the photographs the pet name "Elder Portraits," as this showed respect for wisdom and the often visually interesting qualities associated with age. The results of his project are published in Hemard's first monograph: The Pines (Daylight Books, February 13, 2018).

The Pines is a loose exploration of the remnants of old-growth longleaf pinelands across the southeastern United States that historically was once one of America's most significant landscapes. At its climax, it is maintained with frequent, non-fatal fire that keep non-fire adapted hardwood and plant competition at bay, and is extraordinary for its bio diverse ecosystem rivaling that of tropical rain forests.

Given the vital nature of the need for regular fire to maintain this healthy ecosystem, Hemard underwent training as a certified prescribed burn manager in the state of Alabama to better understand this practice. Among his personal goals through the publication of this book is to foster regular, authentic connections to what little remains of this incredible landscape. The Pines is a meditation on its significant past and present, and how themes of loss and beauty might coexist to motivate a better future.

In the book's foreword, Hemard writes: "The photographs that resulted from my explorations offer a broad overview of old-growth longleaf pinelands that remain around 100 or 150 years after landscape scale industrial removal of tens of millions of acres of this forest/grassland ecosystem ... With pine trees still prominent and ubiquitous across the region today, this significant change of the deep south's landscape is easily too subtle for most people to see, and thus is often overlooked even by residents of the region whose identity and sense of place is formed around a related but now different aesthetic of the countryside."

It is Hemard's hope that his photographs will contribute to the conversation about longleaf conservation and ecology restoration and "help prove enough potential to sustain restoration efforts over time and ultimately help these old-growth pinelands endure."

Becky Barlow, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences Auburn, Alabama contributes an essay to the book entitled "Past Forward: How the Past Has Shaped the Longleaf Pine Forests of Today." It provides context for the images, a historical overview of the landscape and its ecology, and how it changed to look the way it does today across the deep south.

She writes: "If we want to keep the longleaf pine ecosystem functioning in the long term, we need to remember and understand the past. Because ultimately we determine the future of longleaf forests."

The book also includes a poem by Nick Norwood, professor of creative writing at Columbus State University and the director of the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians in Columbus, Georgia and Nyack, New York.

Chuck Hemard is a lifelong resident of the American south. His recent photographs, made mostly with large format film cameras, explore the complexities of contemporary landscape. In 2014, he was awarded an Artist Fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and has work included in public collections across the southeast United States, including the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus GA and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. Hemard is an Associate Professor at Auburn University in the Department of Art and Art History.

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