Function combined with form is always an achievement. Function however does not always carry aesthetics. This does not mean that an object’s usefulness is diminished, nor should it be condemned. Case in point is the ubiquitous cell phone tower. It is a web of these masts that allow telecommunications companies the ability to transmit voice calls and data to and from our smartphone devices. It is also part of the intricate Internet delivery system that we enjoy from our tablets, laptops and personal computers at home and at work. They surely have a well-deserved right to be called functional. But what an eyesore they are to behold. Thankfully our friends over at the telecom companies acknowledge this, and some have even mounted well-meaning efforts to camouflage these unsightly masts with dishes and antennas of varying sizes.
Being vertical, the towers were made to resemble trees. Regrettably, the attempt to blend the towers into the background did the opposite. Instead of obscuring the masts, there now stood this unidentifiable abomination. South African photographer Dillon Marsh‘s photo series called Invasive Species shows these foliage-adorned towers. “In certain cases the disguised towers might not be noticed,” Marsh laments. “But then an undisguised tower might not have been noticed either.” The complete series can be found here.
Such attempts however are not new. In the mid 1990’s, Ivo Branislav Lazic and Aubrey Trevor Thomas were commissioned by Vodacom to confront the visual conundrum presented by these cell sites. The result was the precursor to today’s cell tower/trees: the world’s first palm tree cell phone tower called The Palm Pole Tower. It made its debut in Capetown in 1996.
Marsh completed Invasive Species in 2009, and says there were already a wide variety of tree cell phone towers designs when he started photographing. One was in the American Southwest where a small company, Larson Camouflage was catering to similar aesthetically challenged situations. In 1992 they unveiled a naturalistic pine that concealed an unsightly cell tower in Denver, Colorado. The project cost a counterproductive $150,000.
Marsh is not the only lens man to shoot these indispensable, but bizarre mutations of the information age. Robert Voit has documented tree cell phone towers in the United States, Parts of Europe, and Asia.
So the next time you see a strange tree species…look again.