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When I planted trees there were no smartphones for taking photographs, and besides, it was too dirty, mostly, to have a camera in the bush.

My first year, we worked 21-day shifts and on the day off went to a strip club in Quesnel, BC, because there weren't any other bars that would take us. The trees we planted were bare root spruce and we had to dunk them in puddles of "slurry" water spiked with pesticides. Between the spruce needles and the pesticides and the regular damage of planting trees, your hands became oozing and painful canvases of your labour.

I wanted to write a poem about tree planters' hands, but only got as far as "These Are The Hands Of The Tree Planters..." I imagined a series of photographs of hands, enough of them to cover a giant wall. Like most things I thought about while planting, I didn't follow through...

Until thirty years later when I embarked on the giant undertaking of making my film Forest for the Trees. I was finally going to photograph tree planters' hands. It took me a while to figure out how I would do it.

In the end, the perspective of a planter looking at their own hands was what I decided on. It was a little tricky to pull off, but everyone was amazingly kind and generous with their time and liked the idea of having a portrait of their hands. Here are a few of the hands of the tree planters I met from 2016 to 2021 in various parts of British Columbia.

Media gallery format - use arrows to scroll through


These Are The Hands of The Tree Planters

Photographs by Rita Leistner / Stephen Bulger Gallery

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