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  September/October 2006
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Shanghai by Bike
Two-Time Losers
Fall Fashion
My Low-Carbon Diet
Interview: Al Gore
Ways & Means
One Small Step
Lay of the Land
Good Going
The Green Life
Hey Mr. Green
Sierra Club Bulletin
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Fall Fashion
Photographer Christopher Griffith turns his lens from the latest Parisian styles to the elegance of autumn
By Jennifer Hattam
September/October 2006

Staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina
October 2002, Palisades Parkway, New Jersey
Compared with photographing Olympic athletes, high-end automobiles, and glamorous layouts for French Vogue, taking pictures of a few fall leaves must have seemed like a humble task. But photographer Christopher Griffith found that they could be as finicky as any fashion model--and their beauty even more fleeting. "One time, I came across this sugar maple that had red leaves with yellow polka dots," Griffith says. "They were unbelievable. I got the leaves home, but when I went to photograph them a day later, they had all turned brown. I never saw anything like that again."

Working with such fragile subjects, Griffith devised ways to gather leaves at their peak and preserve them until he could shoot them in his studio. An uncle in southern Quebec served as an early-warning system: When he called to say that the leaves were starting to turn, Griffith would begin planning his next collecting expeditions, driving five hours north one week, then three hours the next, following fall south all the way back to his New York City home. "For those long trips, I had this humidor-type thing that involved ziplock bags and paper towels and ice," he says. "You can't put the leaves on top of each other; if they get pressed, they rot really quickly. If they're too wet, they rot immediately."

Northern red oak, Quercus rubra
October 2003, Ludlow, Vermont
The fruits of Griffith's labors became Fall, a slim but luxurious coffee-table book published by PowerHouse Books in 2004. Vividly backlit and isolated against stark black backgrounds, the highly stylized "portraits" of individual leaves--shot through with red, riddled with holes, or crammed with intricate networks of yellow lines--combine the glamour of a fashion shot with the painstaking detail of a scientific illustration.

The 43-year-old photographer started out as a budding biochemist but was lured away from science by his exposure to the art and design community in London, where he was studying for his doctorate. After seven years as a fashion photographer in Europe, Griffith grew restless once again and has since devoted himself to ambitious advertising campaigns and personal projects like Fall.

"I became fascinated with the transformations you find within a single species and even within a single tree," Griffith says. "It amazed me that one side of a tree could be doing one thing and the other side doing something completely different. That's the scientist in me. The photographer in me was purely fascinated by the beauty."

Left to right: Eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis, November 2001, Palisades Parkway, New Jersey; Swamp white oak, Quercus bicolor, November 2001, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York; Hollyhock, Alcea rosea, November 2002, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York

Sassafras, Sassafras albidum
November 2001, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York

Northern pin oak, Quercus ellipsoidalis
November 2002, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York

Maple, Acer sp.
October 2003, Bronx River Parkway, New York

Paper mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera
November 2001, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York

Staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina
October 2003, Bellows Falls, Vermont

See more of Griffith's work at

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