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The Singular Drama of New York Trees

Illuminated by the city lights, these trees take on new life.

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Central Park West

Photographer Sue Bailey has a thing for trees. In fact, she believes every tree is a being with a soul and a spirit.

You might expect someone who feels this way to live in close proximity with nature. But while originally from the Pacific Northwest, Bailey currently lives in New York City. The trees in her life are city dwellers—standing sentinel in parks, bystanders to the flow of human activity.

"I am a tree hugger without actually hugging the trees," she says. "I get very emotional about them."

Bailey only photographs at night, when she feels most connected to the energy of the natural world. It's also when the city comes alive and stokes another of her passions: theater.

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Fifth Avenue

Walking the edges of the city's parks, she's on the lookout for what she refers to as "million-dollar light displays"—ambient light from movie theater marquees, police cars, delicatessens, and nail spas that illuminates the branches and clouds overhead.

In the multihued spotlight, their shapes are imbued with personality and character. As she writes on her website, "I talk to them and have ones I feel particularly close to," she says. "There’s one on Riverside Drive that I call 'My Guy,' and I have photographed him many times. He was my 'first' in a way. He lives near 'Yeshiva Boy,' who protects a Yeshiva school on 89th Street. And there’s 'Octopus,' a female essence who has undulating upward arms and lives in a very dark area of Madison Square Park."

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Riverside Park

Bailey hopes that putting trees center stage will inspire people to take a moment to appreciate the natural world that surrounds them—even in one of the world's most populated cities.

"There is some Barnum and Bailey promotion in me about these trees," says Bailey, whose previous career included work in television. "I've had some people say, 'I never really saw those trees in New York City—I'm looking at them differently now.'"

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Central Park West

You can see more of Sue Bailey's work on her website.

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