"The images from The Soul Tree are my attempts at
rendering light, weather, and atmosphere as they define
the Blue Ridge and characterize the mountains of Southern
Appalachia.  While inspired by the beauty of the mountains,
my main goal was to create expressionist and symbolic
imagery rather than literal or realistic representations of
nature.  I wanted to capture the dynamics and energy of
the Appalachian landscape in the photographs, as well as
my personal sense of aesthetics.  

 Most of the photographs were made during the mid-1990s
using traditional color photography techniques, color
transparency film and 35mm cameras, and about thirty of
the images in the book were made during the past several
years using 35mm digital cameras.  All but a handful of the
images were made along areas and trails adjacent to the
Blue Ridge Parkway, from Mt. Mitchell State Park, 20 miles
north of Asheville, to Richland Balsam, about 50 miles to
the south.

 After years of trying to figure out what to do with all of
these images, I met Laura while on a photo assignment for
the Asheville Citizen-Times in 2008.  The newspaper was
doing a story on Wordfest, a poetry festival founded by
Laura, and after photographing her for the story, I gave her
my landscape photography business card.

She soon replied with an email containing one sentence
thanking me for “making such wonderful pictures.”  There  
was an attachment on the email…A poem titled, “The Soul
Tree,” and an accompanying photo.  I was stunned after
reading the poem, and then I noticed there were 35 more
pages to the attached document.  I think my jaw dropped a
little lower each time I scrolled to the next poem…36 in all.  I
was speechless.

 Not only was her writing beautiful and poignant, but she
brought the photographs to life with her poetry.  I was also
quite overwhelmed by her choice of photos…not the pretty
sunset pictures that most people like.  She was inspired by
the photos that were my favorites…the mysterious and
more abstract images that I feel personify my experience
and observations.

 I soon began sending her images that were not on my
website, and one by one, she volleyed back poems, each
one even more amazing than the next.  This continued for
months as I continually created page layouts, and before
we knew it, The Soul Tree had been created.
    While researching publishing companies, we decided
that we wanted the book to be a local endeavor.  During a
visit to Biltmore Press in Asheville, we were introduced to
Micki Cabaniss of Grateful Steps Publishing House.  
Micki's artist-friendly mission and philosophy turned out to
be the perfect match for us, so production began
immediately in July of 2008.  We were also able to use an
environmentally friendly printing process through Biltmore
Press.

 But for me, the real beauty of working on The Soul Tree
was that Grateful Steps allowed us to work as if we were in
a creative vacuum…almost completely separated from the
forces of marketing, public relations, and third-party
editing that I have grown to accept in my daily commercial
work.  We were even allowed to put the image of a dead
tree on the cover.  

 This work has re-energized my obsession with
photography, and it has inspired me to go back to my
roots as a photographer and artist.  I think that The Soul
Tree is as close to a pure artistic endeavor as one can
hope to achieve in today’s business world. The
experience reminds me of the days when musicians would
spend months or years in the studio in hopes of crafting a
classic album.

 The years when I created the bulk of The Soul Tree
images were amongst the most memorable in my lifetime.  
The main reason that I moved to Asheville in 1995 was to
work-out my obsession with photography while exploring
the southern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Working
with color transparencies (slide film) was an abrupt
departure from my passion was with black and white
photography and creative printing techniques.   And
running parallel to all of this was my fascination with
photojournalism and my continual pursuit of making a
living through photography.

 Today I continue this pursuit by working as a staff
photographer for the Asheville Citizen-Times,  shooting
weddings, and freelancing for regional and national
clients including,  USA Today, The Associated Press,
MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and
the Asheville Chamber of Commerce."


                                                 ~John Fletcher / 2009
                                                                
The Photographs of The Soul Tree  
The Poems of The Soul Tree  
   “When I first opened John’s online landscape portfolio, I was instantly moved to write. It was a primal
creative event, the sort of experience poets and artists prepare for and dream of having, and it held me
captive for the entire day. The poems flowed musically, each one echoing the sounds I sensed emerging from
the images. We might not “hear” this music when we’re driving through the Parkway, but it resonates with us.
It is what keeps us here. Looking at these images sharpened my ear for this music, and the resulting poems
are quite unlike any poems I have ever written before.

   The Blue Ridge that John captures on film is the landscape I hear in true old-time Appalachian music, not
country-western, but the visceral, haunting songs buried deep in the hills. It’s a sound that dazzles the blood
and almost chills you while wrapping you at the same time in an old “been in the family for years” blanket. It’s
a spirit that he conveys, one comprised of both light and darkness, showing us that in order to have one you
have got to embrace the other, usually at the exact same time. I see it again and again in these pictures, that
paradox of being.

   While I wrote the poems, I found that each one wanted to speak of opposites co-existing--light and dark,
love and loss, seen and unseen, joy and sorrow, sound and silence, life and death. Poetry is one language
for exploring these dualities. Photography is another. The metaphor of trees has been with me since my early
childhood when I was imprinted with the rough windblown pines of Georgian Bay , Ontario , Canada . That
region is very similar, by virtue of an equation of latitude and elevation, to this one of the Southern
Appalachians . I think that in seeing the dead tree I was connecting with something of my origin in the
Northland. This is another opposite that the collection quietly addresses.

   Working with John for the past year, I’ve come to appreciate the photographer’s sensitivity to things I’d
never thought about before. We have joked that I am the word girl and he is the picture guy. But over the
course of creating the book, I think we have each developed a sense for the other’s art form. When I have
made a change in a poem, John has noticed it. When he would frame an image differently on the manuscript,
I would see why he made the choice he made. What we share, artistically, is an incredibly high standard for
what we will allow to go out into the world. And when you’re working with such an artist-focused press as
Grateful Steps, one where the owner trusts the artists’ instincts and skill, the onus was on us to bring this
book, with the great help of Sundara Fawn our graphic designer, to the level of excellence we each demand
from ourselves as makers of beautiful things.
Contact
Grateful Steps Publishing House   (828) 277-0998
Laura Hope Gill   (828) 681-5348
John Fletcher, Jr.  (828) 230-0053
www.TheSoulTree.org
Email:  info@TheSoulTree.org