I spend a lot of time talking about this photograph taken in Cradle Mountain, Tasmania in my presentations at camera clubs.  It has taught me a lot about photography.  It all started when I quickly cropped it square to drop into one of my presentations. 


During the presentation at an un named camera club a louder older male in the back corner suggested that it would be better if I chopped off the sky.   It pushed a button and I almost snapped.  I posed the question about whether it really was appropriate to talk that way to a guest speakers, nor to someone whom hasn’t asked for foto feedback. Is it the usual way club members are given suggestions?  Usually, people pick on others for their own self esteem, not really wanting to help the person.  If they were coming from a helping perspective they would be structuring thier words in a helpful way rather than one that inflicts pain. 

My reaction was latter vindicated by two lovely older ladies who thanked me because that person really did need putting in thier place. 

Later I looked at my square cropped image.  Hmmmm, yes the balance wasn’t quite right. 

Here is his suggested crop. 


Unfortunately it changes the feelings of the image for me.   That wasn’t right either.  This crop may do better in club competitions where impact counts in a judging scenario.

So I went back to my original and it immediately took me back to the intense sadness I felt while taking this photograph and at that spot.  That extra sky evoked the sadness I wanted to expresss.

These days when I talk about these images, I make a strong case for shooting in the aspect ratio that I plan to show them in because cropping after the fact changes the feelings for much of my work. 

On Monday night I was talking about this image again and someone asked why I was sad for the dead tree. 

Because it’s dead is the straight answer.  The longer one is about why is it part of a whole stand of dead trees.  Where are the new ones growing at its base to replace them.   

At first I thought it was die back.  Something in the soil. A fungus perhaps that was killing them.   Drought perhaps. 

Each subsequent visit to Cradle Mountain sees me returning to this tree and this stand to pay my respects and unfortunately I am always overwhelmed by the flush of sadness that flows through me.  Five years later and still no trees for regrowth.  Still sad.  Lonely.  Dead. 

I visit this skeleton each time I return and pay my respects. I am deeply sorry for what my fellow humans have done, and how selfish we are as a species. 

This year it dawned on me that they were a victim of fires.  In Tasmania the trees and forest doesn’t regenerate.  Not like the Blue Mountains where a fire is the start of new beginnings.  In Tasmania the trees die and don’t grow back.   It was the burnt branches I stepped on that made me twig to it.  They reminded me of the newly burnt forest in the Tarkine I had seen a few years before hand.

I really don’t know what killed this tree or the stand around it.   I can only tell you my educated guess.   

The original photograph expresses this sadness for me.  It’s about the lonely dead tree, not the playful button grass that grows at its base.  The tree here isn’t some hero, it’s life was lost, and I am full of sadness for it.

It is a stark reminder for me that climate change is real and that many more trees will be lost in the coming future.  We must plant the ones we have cut down to halt the imbalance we have caused with our relentless population growth and reliance on fossil fuels for our modern convenient lives. We need to be planting millions and millions of trees. 

Sad dead tree, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania. Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018


Artist | Writer | Photographer | Educator | Adventurer