February 4, 2023

Geoffrey James: Trees

Exposure Photography Festival 2023
Opening Saturday, February 4, 2023
1:30 pm to 5:00 pm

TrépanierBaer Gallery is pleased to announce its participation in the 2023 Exposure Photography Festival with three exhibitions: Barbara Steinman: Keeping Time, Geoffrey James: Trees, and Evan Penny: The Venetian Mirror. While distinct in their respective representations, these photographic bodies of work share concerns regarding the poetics of space, time, and memory, and how they are translated and expressed via the genre of photography. All of the works on view are replete in both the visual and philosophical senses, and should not be missed!

Also on view is a suite of vintage Geoffrey James photographs from his majestic Trees series. Comparisons can be made between this series and the works from the Keeping Time series by Barbara Steinman. Both series represent elements of the natural world. Most importantly, both series are visual records of these floral and arboreal examples at different moments of their existence, and place emphasis on the points in time of their respective chronologies captured in the photographs. The ephemerality of the smaller and fragile floral works stands in contrast to the permanence of the tall and sentinel trees.

For over fifty years, Geoffrey James has used photography to investigate Western society through its landscapes. His ability to locate human aspirations through the built environment and natural environment coupled with a keen sense of pictorial structure has allowed him to find poetry and irony in the contemporary landscapes in which we live, work, and play.

Lori Pauli, Geoffrey James: Utopia / Dystopia, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Canada, 2008, p. 9

Geoffrey James’s first exhibition of photographs exclusively of trees occurred in 1998. While trees have often appeared in his photographs, they were never the focus or subject of these images. However, James took a cue from nineteenth-century American and French photographers such as Carleton Watkins and Eugène Atget whom photographed trees as their subjects, and decided to follow suit in his practice.

James used a panoramic camera to capture these arboreal images. Initially, his interest in photographing old-world formal gardens and producing horizontal images of them lead him to the use of panoramic cameras that provided a longer trek to better capture the breadth of the landscapes he saw; and he eventually turned the camera on its side to replicate his subjects’  vertical alignment, but also to record the intricacies of their surfaces, and the patterning of their branches up close, so the viewer too could feel as if they were literally standing in front of a tree.

Four years after that first Trees exhibition, James was commissioned by the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation to make a series of “Tree Portraits”, with the aim of raising public awareness of heritage trees across the city of Toronto. Many of these photographs were used for a calendar produced for the year 2006; and a few are on view now at TrépanierBaer Gallery.

Op. Cit., Stephen Bann, “Artificial Paradise, ” in  Geoffrey James: Utopia / Dystopia, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Canada, 2008, pp 34-35.


Geoffrey James is a picture maker who invests the raw materials of light, paper, and chemicals with the power to recall things. James has commented that the best photography gives a sense of what it is like to be there, that it has “a mnemonic power that no other medium has, a power to recall things…”

Geoffrey James was born in Wales in 1942, read Modern History at Wadham College, Oxford (BA and MA), and emigrated to Canada in 1966, working for several years as associate editor of Time magazine in Montreal from 1967-1975; and as head of the Visual Arts, film and Video section of the Canada Council, Ottawa from 1975-1982. He is self-taught.

His career includes a significant number of honours, exhibitions, and awards: in 2016, he was appointed Toronto’s first Photo Laureate; and in 2012, he was the recipient of the Governor General’s Award for  the fields of visual and media arts; in 2002 Geoffrey James received both the Gershon Iskowitz Foundation Prize, and the Roloff Beny Foundation Photography Book Award; Geoffrey James is a Fellow of the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Chicago, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, New York; and is also member of the Royal Canadian Academy.

His exhibition history is extensive, and includes venues in both North America and Europe. Recent solo exhibitions of note in Canada include: Geoffrey James: Working Spaces | Civic Settings: Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto, 2019; Inside the Kingston Penitentiary, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Kingston, and Glenbow Museum, Calgary, 2014; and a retrospective exhibition with catalogue titled Utopia/Dystopia: The Photographs of Geoffrey James at the National Gallery of Canada, 2008, to name a few.

Geoffrey James’s work can be found in many prominent private and public collections around the world including the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Vancouver Art Gallery; the Art Gallery of Ontario; the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal;  Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Musée de L’Elysée, Lausanne;  the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; the Palazzo Braschi, Rome; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Cleveland Museum of Art; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.

Image Credit:
Geoffrey James
Maple, Allen Gardens, 2004
Black and white silver print
Edition 1/8 – 60” x 32” framed