Today's Guest Blogger: Lou Jones

I met Lou Jones in 1973 while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. We've been good friends ever since. Take it way Lou.

Wood: A Dream Assignment?

I spend about forty percent of my time traveling and taking pictures and ninety percent of that is for various advertising and corporate clients. In today’s uncertain economy, it is harder to engage assignments that take you on the road for extended periods of time. To better manage the changing marketplace, my studio developed a division called CIRCUMNAVIGATION. We have been traveling for companies for years, but felt it was necessary to adopt many new techniques and technologies to make it easier for them to justify the expenditures. We also streamlined the onerous aspects of travel like logistics, visas, research, time management and access in order to better service magazines, designers, and businesses that want personalized international imagery.

"The best friend on earth of man is the tree. When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources on the earth." - Frank Lloyd Wright

My latest endeavor was in China to document the supply chain of growing trees, making plywood, and exporting the highly engineered wood to the USA. This may sound like a boring story, but it is the preamble to future globalization and cooperation between nations.  Many of the working environments had never been visited and recorded by "outsiders" before. But my clients have spent the last decade pioneering this lucrative, new market and its intricacies.  

Wood is one of the most basic and essential materials in the world. It is used for construction, fuel, warmth, cooking, food, art and has paralleled civilization's progress since the beginning of time. It is a sustainable resource that has been grown, used and traded for millennia. Trees are essential to humanity; we breathe their byproducts of oxygen and could not survive without their chemical/biological contributions.

Even though I do a lot of research before I take on these jobs, I knew only the basics about this worldwide biomass. China was my graduate school. I traveled half way around the globe to document the various steps in making plywood (one of the marvels of modern technology). We visited the nurseries where the seedlings were nurtured and the vast forests, most of which were state owned and planted years ago.  We also visited the logging camps where migrant workers were clearing enormous mountainsides of eucalyptus and poplar trees, the mills in which the plywood layers were laminated together, and the seaports from which the next stop was the USA. Access was unprecedented.

As a photographer, my primary objective was to make wood look good.  The public relations task was to make something we all think we know everything about interesting, different, maybe even amazing. The stewardship of one of the earth’s most ubiquitous natural resources needed a new face. Primitive and organic elements needed to be emphasized, like the exotic mystique of early and traditional professions being done manually.  Since China has been maligned in the news for its human rights violations and shoddy labor practices, the dangerous and macho practices needed to be downplayed.

When my clients ventured into the forests of southern, central and eastern China there were few roads to transport large convoys of lumber. Their first visits to the mills revealed facilities with substandard working conditions. Today I drove across six lane highways built to handle the enormous influx of cars and trucks that are the backbone of the burgeoning economy. To elevate the quality of the products much has to be handcrafted and China has the manpower to do it. Due to my clients' efforts, factory conditions have been improved with better air quality and lighting, and toxic chemicals have been removed from most of the processes.

The local factory owners and managers were proud of their new machinery and efficiency whereas I was fascinated with the human work force in each step along the supply chain. Cultural, racial and protocol barriers have been overcome at lightning speed. Generations of traditions and obstacles on both sides of the Pacific Ocean have been leapfrogged by the combination of labor and capital. Meeting and photographing the officials who take up the front pages of our newspapers was a huge responsibility, not only for my clients but for the historical import of the project.

 "Except during the nine months before he draws his first breath, no man manages his affairs as well as a tree does." - George Bernard Shaw
We traveled thousands of miles to visit the handful of major species of trees used in plywood fabrication. As a result we used every form of conveyance to cover the vast distances: domestic airlines, high speed railroad and, of course, cargo vans. But to reach the most remote locations, we rode bone chattering four-wheel drive vehicles and hiked the rest of the way on foot. Despite the rigors this was a dream assignment.

– lou jones
   july 2012

Lou Jones is one of Boston’s most eclectic photographers, specializing in photoillustration and location photography. His client list includes FedEx, American Express, Aetna, Museum of Fine Arts, and National Geographic.  Over the past two years he has traveled to all emerging B.R.I.C. countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and most recently China) culminating in an eBook titled "Marketing Travel Photography”.