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I THOUGHT THAT I WOULD BE IN HEAVEN BUT I AM ONLY UP A TREE - Ryan James Caruthers with an essay by Ocean Vuong


In I THOUGHT THAT I WOULD BE IN HEAVEN BUT I AM ONLY UP A TREE, Ryan James Caruthers recounts his time spent in the forest as a child, escaping the societal challenges related to his identity. Despite feeling the unnaturalness imposed upon his young queer body, he found comfort in nature.

But for all of these allusions to crises, the central impulse in these photos, the one steadfast and pervasive feeling, is awe. They hold stark warnings but don’t force the easy, reductive “cause,” possessing instead an inexhaustible refusal of closure or conclusion.  – Ocean Vuong,  2023

Caruthers endeavours to rediscover himself within the California landscape, aiming to conjure moments from his adolescence and reconnect with his origins. Inspired by Caspar David Friedrich’s painting “The Monk by the Sea,” his search for self among the trees evokes an intimate connection akin to that of lovers, reflecting his desire to surrender to an unpredictable force. Acknowledging the impermanence of his presence in the forest, Caruthers is confronted with evidence of humanity’s impact, realising that the very environment that once nurtured his identity is threatened by human existence. Despite this, his search for self continues as he embraces the uncertainty of finding a true reflection in the landscape.

Nature itself is queer — a realm of alterity that speaks in a mysterious language of light, wind, and rain. – Ryan James Caruthers, 2023

Ryan James Caruthers is an American photographer based in Los Angeles. Caruthers’ work oscillates between multiple genres of photography, including portraiture, landscape, and fashion. In 2017, Caruthers was awarded the British Journal of Photography Breakthrough Award for his undergraduate thesis project, Tryouts. Caruthers has exhibited his work at Leslie Lohman Museum, Colette Paris, Saint Laurent, and more. He graduated with a BFA from Parsons, the New School for Design.

Forma Editions, 2024
Hardcover, 72pp 
240 x 200mm 

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