There’s not a blade of grass in sight. I see no dirt either. But somehow, against all odds, a tree has sprouted from this forbidding patch of concrete at a strange, 70-degree angle. I didn’t even know trees could grow that way, let alone in these conditions. It’s a scene that plays out over and over again in an ever-expanding photo essay called A Tree Grows In by L.A. photographer Sinziana Velicescu. Her images capture plant life finding a way amid the harsh built environments of cities and suburbs.
“I’ve been photographing overlooked observations around my hometown of Los Angeles, and this is just one of the many thematic elements I’ve found to be unique during my explorations,” says Velicescu, who adds to the collection whenever she comes across the phenomenon. “The more I travel, the more I realize this is not just unique to L.A., but more the built environment of the entire Southwest.”
Her photos, despite being taken at many times and locations, are eerily similar to one another. She juxtaposes the slightest bit of green against an otherwise lifeless scene of concrete, bricks, and pavement. Even the glimpses of dusty dirt seem to blend in with the sun-scorched blacktop. Looking at the photos evokes a strange cognitive dissonance. On one hand, these stalwart plants are great news for us: We need as many trees as we can possibly plant to counteract carbon emissions, and even a few individual trees can suck up so much rainwater that they make a serious difference to flood prevention. These trees are thriving in uncertain circumstances. But on the other hand, what sort of world have we built, that forces nature to adapt like this?
“There’s a push and pull of positive and negative in all the images,” agrees Velicescu. “In some ways, the imagery is a bit dismal in the sense that the nature is contained within these constructed environments we’ve built . . . but in almost every photo, there is hope in the sense that the trees and topiary are still emerging through the cracks, taking back the land, or not necessarily playing by man’s rules due to their inherent qualities of being wild.”
Indeed, and if nothing else, the essay is a reminder, that no matter the mistakes humanity makes in protecting this planet, the natural world will eventually recover—even if it takes eons—by breaking through one strip-mall sidewalk at a time.