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Rita Leistner planted over half a million trees from 1984-93. She spent the next twenty years working as a documentary photographer and photojournalist, primarily in war zones, claiming the backbreaking work of tree planting and the logistical skills she acquired as a crew boss prepared her for thriving in challenging environments.
Returning to the cut-block (the vast swathes of land cleared by logging) in 2016, Leistner “embedded” with a community of 100 tree planters, spending four years living in their bush camps in remote parts of western Canada. She creates heroic and uncanny portraits of work and of the land in homage to the people, profession and environment that were so formative to her.
High production tree planting is only in its second generation (it became necessary with the rise of mechanical logging in the late 1960s). Tree planting is a hybrid industrial labour and high intensity sport, where Canadian tree planters set the bar and are without peers worldwide. Today, tree planting is at a crossroads: the crucial moment at which it is transitioning from being something securely within the forestry industry to a kind of Anthropocene climate change symptom and solution. In addition to the book, the five-year project resulted in large scale works that are in major collections in Canada, and a feature documentary film Forest for the Trees (2021).
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Rita Leistner uses her camera to create portraits of communities, exploring themes of purpose, struggle, and belonging. Each unique world shapes her conceptual approaches and aesthetic styles, resulting in distinctive, large bodies of work that merge art, documentary, and theory, and may consist of books or films in addition to photographs for installation. Confined to Toronto during the pandemic, she has turned her attention to the city and her community there, completing two new projects, including the performative "Infinite Distance," a photographic collaboration with Don McKellar. Leistner has lectured worldwide and has written extensively on documentary photography and photojournalism, including authoring the chapter “Photography Goes to War” in The Routledge Companion to Photography and Visual Culture. She has a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto, has planted over 750,000 trees in Canada, and is represented by the Stephen Bulger Gallery.
Don McKellar is one of Canada’s most acclaimed and prolific creative forces. He was a key member of the Toronto film scene’s "New Wave" and co-founder of the avant-garde theatre collective The Augusta Company. He directed and co-starred in the TV series Sensitive Skin with Kim Cattrall and won a Tony as co-writer of a Broadway musical. He has directed four award-winning feature films and acted in many more.
£38.00 Clothbound hardback
256 pages, 160 colour plates
290mm x 250mm
Texts in English and French
Check out this short film to find out more about the book