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That Tree: A Year in the Life of a Lonely Oak

Photos by Mark Hirsch | Text by Della Watson

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It was just an ordinary tree. Mark Hirsch drove past the gnarled, ancient oak for 19 years without a second glance. Then, one snowy January day, as its dark limbs traced bold outlines on a white sky, he paused to take a photo. And as Hirsch's camera phone clicked, the tree ceased to seem ordinary.

A professional photographer, Hirsch had recently bought an iPhone. Eager to try out his smartphone's functionality, he accepted his friend Cori Peplnjak's challenge to post a daily iPhone photo on Facebook. At first, he imagined that the project would embrace a different subject each day. But after a second photo of the oak prompted another friend, Greg Guenther, to comment, "Dude, you and that tree! You should do a photo a day with it!," the project's scope was sealed.

For an entire year, Hirsch documented the life of the single bur oak, a solitary sentry surrounded by Wisconsin cornfields. He came to appreciate the old tree's sweeping boughs, its sturdy leaves, the tiny insects that clung to the rough bark.

That Tree gained a devoted following on Facebook, with fans eager to see how the oak would look draped in snow or shrouded by sunset. In August 2013, a collection of the photos will be released as a book titled That Tree: An iPhone Photo Journal Documenting a Year in-the-Life of a Lonely Bur Oak. On March 23, the photographer will click the year's final shot, and this time the tree will be surrounded by friends—at press time, 163 people had RSVPed to be included in the 365th portrait.

But the final photograph won't be the end of the story. "I won't stop," he says. "It's become a part of my day." Hirsch looks forward to experimenting with other camera technology after the iPhone year is up. For the photographer and nearly 4,000 Facebook fans, That Tree will remain a captivating friend.


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