Cellphone Towers Disguised as Trees Are a Puzzling Attempt at Aesthetics


Pete BrookWired

With the rapid and lucrative growth in the smartphone industry, we’re always told that the world is in our hands. But the infrastructure of that world is not always as seamless as we would like. A sprawling web of infrastructure, made up of towers, buried fiber optics and orbiting satellites, sometimes encroaches in garish and inconvenient ways.

Cellphone Towers Disguised as Trees Are a Puzzling Attempt at Aesthetics

South African photographer Dillon Marsh‘s compact photo series (all 12 Invasive Species images featured here) is a meditation on the weird, and small, variations of design in tree cellphone towers.

“In certain cases the disguised towers might not be noticed,” says Marsh. “But then an undisguised tower might not have been noticed either.”

An important chapter in the history of tree-shaped cellphone towers was written in South Africa. In the mid-’90s, Ivo Branislav Lazic (who worked for a telecommunications service company called Brolaz Projects) and his colleague Aubrey Trevor Thomas were commissioned by Vodacom to solve the visual pollution problem cellphones presented.

Lazic and Thomas came up with the world’s first palm tree cellphone tower. The Palm Pole Tower, made from non-toxic plastics, was installed in Cape Town in 1996.

“There were already a wide variety of designs by the time I started photographing,” says Marsh, who completed the project over six months in 2009. “The designs loosely mimic trees that are found in the local environment.”

Meanwhile, in the American Southwest, fledgling company Larson Camouflage was responding to similar style-sensitive network companies. Larson makes scores of different “trees” but it kicked everything off in 1992 with a naturalistic pine that concealed a disagreeable cell tower in Denver, Colorado. To dress up a cell tower in plastic foliage can cost up to $150,000, four times the cost of a naked mast. Marsh is skeptical about the need for high-tech camouflage.

“Even though the gesture is well-meaning, in many cases the result seems clumsy and unconvincing,” he says of the South African technoflora. “Most people don’t feel strongly positive or negative about them, but simply view them as a curiosity.”

Marsh isn’t the first photographer to peer at these bedecked boreals. Robert Voit has thoughtfully photographed tree cellphone towers in the United States, Italy, Portugal, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

The bizarre typology that is fake-tree cellphone towers is a reminder that our calls to India actually travel through something, and that something has to be close at all times. We just don’t want that something to necessarily look the way its function dictates. But the funny thing about camouflage is that, if done poorly, it actually draws attention to what one is trying to hide.

2 Responses

  1. aj weishar says:

    You can disguise them but you can’t fool the birds. Did you ever notice a flock of birds on a utility pole, or line? Did you ever see the same scenario on a microwave tower? No, birds won’t go near them, and the soil below them is lifeless, no bugs or worms. That’s the canary in the mine, and we’re clueless.

  2. 5 War Veteran says:

    I have seen church steeples that his cell towers.
    Lipstick on a pig.

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