By Hannah Buoye
With Upper Campus as a drop sheet and the sun’s natural light as a flash bulb, Jack Gescheidt used the juxtaposition of naked bodies and Tree Nine to photograph the inherent and essential link between humans and nature.
Gescheidt’s black and white photograph symbolically documents what could be lost if the University’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) proceeds: the quiet forest, the rural landscape, and this iconic Douglas Fir.
“[The LRDP] will destroy upper campus as we know it,” said UC Santa Cruz alumnus and writing instructor Jeff Arnett, also a concerned Santa Cruz resident and event organizer. “Tree Nine is right in the middle of the development.”
Concerned with student apathy and ignorance of the LRDP, Arnett used the context of Earth Day and Gescheidt’s photography to bring natural resources and UCSC landmarks to light.
“The university is not being transparent enough with the process,” Arnett said. “Students are ill-informed and the Regents have a green light for development.”
The LRDP proposes an expansion of campus facilities to accommodate 19,500 students by the year 2020. While the plan claims that 65 percent of new development will occur in already developed areas, the other 35 percent will occur in designated areas of northern campus. With a proposed increase of about 3,175,000 square feet and an enrollment increase of around 5,100 students, the plan would fulfill state law requirements for expansion and could potentially improve campus facilities.
According to Arnett, plans include two new college dorms, new office buildings and a new major road from Crown/Merrill to Empire Grade with a bridge over the Porter Caves, all developments that Arnett opposes. He has even drafted an anti-expansion flyer that reads: “Current plans violate the mission and spirit of the visionary founders of our unique rural campus.”
Gescheidt, a photographer and San Francisco resident, began The TreeSpirit Project in 2003 with the goal of showing the interconnected relationship humans have with nature through the aesthetic positioning of naked bodies within the natural contours of trees.
“[They’re] not just for me to look at; they’re organic and a part of us,” Gescheidt said, referring to the trees.
Dispelling the myth that the project is just another excuse to strip down and hug tree trunks, Gescheidt explains that “the people are naked to be vulnerable, to be harmless to trees, to be timeless.”
Participants were mainly local residents and those associated with Gescheidt’s project.
Before climbing the tree, they voiced concern and doubt about the effectiveness of this artistic display. It was evident from the questions asked that people were uninformed about the LRDP, not to mention the surprising lack of student participation in the event.
Jennifer Neal, a longtime Santa Cruz resident who participated in the photo shoot, voiced her concern and frustration with the University and its PR campaign to improve relations with the city.
“We are rarely informed about what the university is doing with the land,” Neal said. “It is their land, but it directly impacts us, especially issues like water, waste and traffic controlâ€¦I think the University should make more of an effort to include the town.”
Although Sunday’s event resulted in a beautiful photograph, the future of Tree Nine and the surrounding forest is still in question.