The first time I shot this tree was in March 2013 while I was working on a project to photograph the entire length of the Yangtze river at 100km intervals. I stopped in at a tiny village called Xialiu in Yunnan Province. The first thing I noticed was this beautiful tree. Locals said it was probably more than 300 years old as old as the village. It was a hot sunny place so people really needed its leafy branches to rest under.


The village had gorgeous big courtyards full of lush plants and decorated walls. The houses were white with black-tiled roofs and flying eaves. There were several other ancient trees but half of the village had been demolished. A dam on the Yangtze was being built nearby so Xialiu would soon be flooded. I managed to take a couple of pictures but I was exhausted. I had spent all my money and even been bitten by a dog.



Three months later I returned to the village and it was as if a nuclear bomb had been dropped. I was shocked ? everything was gone flattened. My big question was about the tree: what had happened to it?


I stayed on for a few days and found some villagers who had been moved to higher ground. They told me all the old trees had been sold for the equivalent of about £10,000 and that each family in the village had been given a share. I asked about the biggest tree and they told me it had been sold on and was now in Binchuan City about two hours' drive away.

我待了几天,发现一些村民已经搬到了更高的地方。村民告诉我那些古树等价卖了差不多 10,000英镑,村里每户人家都分到了一些钱。我问了最大的一棵古树,他们告诉我已经被卖掉了,现在在2小时车程之外的宾川县。


In Binchuan the tree was already famous. A policewoman told me it had been bought by a new five-star hotel. The place wasn't even built: apart from the tree there was just an empty construction site. It was a heartbreaking scene. I'd seen the tree in its home covered with leaves as villagers lived their lives around it. Now it was like a person with their arms fingers and hair all chopped off.


I don't think they'd been able to dig a hole big enough because the tree was raised above ground. A security guard told me they'd broken two cranes trying to move it. Even with all its leaves and smaller branches removed it still weighed 70 tonnes. Apparently, the new owner paid £25,000 for this tree – and someone else has since offered £70,000, but the owner refused to sell



The great thing about shooting with large format is the amount of detail. You can see that the tree is covered in needles and nutrition bags like the drips you get in hospitals. I asked the guard if the tree would survive and he was confident. WhenI left Binchuan I saw dug-up trees lining the road and waiting to be sold. In other villages people told me dealers were trying to buy their old trees.


I first photographed transplanted trees in 2011 but this is the only one I saw before it was uprooted. I shoot them as if they're sculptures isolated with a sense of confrontation. The transplantation of trees in China is a serious industry. Enormous numbers are uprooted and sent great distances to new cities and redevelopments. Some developers don't even care if the new climate is suitable. I've seen trees that were taken from Vietnam planted in places far too cold for them. They have to wrap them in giant plastic bags.