For the past decade I have been experimenting with new color imagery that is both an artistic and technical break from my former photographic career. I call these new works Botanical Metamorphics.
Technically, they are made without either film or camera. I use only a light source and lens to project forms onto archival color sensitive paper. I explore the structure of botanical subjects to reveal their inner essence. Through experimentation I have found ways to make these subjects more transparent than they appear to the naked eye. Tiny details, even when greatly enlarged, print dramatically without any of the graininess associated with conventional photography.
An average work takes many hours of preparation before the final printing. Because most botanical specimens are fragile, they quickly fade and self-destruct when subjected to strong light. It is therefore, only possible to make a small number of images before their delicate brilliance is gone.
These finished works are color photograms no larger than 16x20 inches. I also make selected editions limited to 25 in larger sizes (typically 20x24, 24x30 and 30x40 inches.) In this case an 8xl0 transparency is made of the original image to allow the photogram to be printed in these larger formats. Some of the final works are also presented as repeat images, which may increase the final size even further.
The Botanical Metamorphics fit into both the history of photography and the history of botanical imagery. From the photographic point of view, they are clearly photograms. A photogram has been defined in the the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1969, as follows: "Photogram (photography) A shadowy image produced without a camera by placing an object in contact with film or photosensitive paper and exposing to light."
The photogram was best known as a post World War I movement in Europe. In 1917, a German named Christian Schad experimented with the technique and called his works Schadographs. In 1921, Man Ray, an American painter living in Paris, saw some of Schad’s work and started some of his own experiments, which he called Rayographs. The following year, the Hungarian Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in turn saw a portfolio of 12 Rayographs and produced his own experiments, which he called photograms. Popular for a few years, this movement had passed into photographic history by the 1930’s.
Photogram is a slightly incorrect definition for the process I have developed, as I have taken the traditional photogramatic process a few steps forward. My technique is a color process where light is passed through the object, which is then enlarged onto photosensitive color paper thereby eliminating shadows altogether. The light seems to come from within the fruit, flower or vegetable.
The long-lived, rich and distinct history of botanical art has, for the most part, been associated with painting (usually watercolor), drawing, and printmaking (usually engraving). By using archival light-sensitive color photographic paper in my Botanical Metamorphics, I have broken with these traditional methods to open another chapter in the rich history of botanical art.
As a society, we have become sadly out of touch with the powerful simplicity of nature. I am firmly convinced that most individuals who remain closely associated with the earth and its products are affected by this interaction. In contrast, although we are all presented with an overwhelming choice of fruits, flowers, and vegetables in or out of season, they more and more frequently come to us dyes, saturated with chemicals, bleached, dehydrated, reconstituted, waxed, gassed and tightly cocooned in plastic.
In my Botanical Metamorphics I am reaching into the very center of familiar plant life, and presenting my discoveries it a powerfully graphic contemporary manner. I want this new body of work to not only amaze and delight, but also emotionally reinvolve the viewer in the absolute beauty of botanical forms.