Techno-magical images of plants.
In the 21st century digital technologies have made enormous advances, pushing analogue procedures to the edge of the universe of photography, but we have discovered entirely new ways of making use of this moribund technology.
PLANTS – PHOTOSENSITIVE MATERIALS – LIGHT – TIME – DARKROOM ALCHEMY; these are the ingredients for a new experimental procedure using the basic materials for black and white photography. These new procedures reveal the ability of light sensitive film to record the physical and chemical phenomena which take place over the course of some tens of hours when it comes into contact with nature and organic matter. This technique results in coloured pictures of plants, partly depicted in tiny detail and partly shrouded in a mist of secrecy. The detailed representation of the structures of plants, along with the exceptional colours produced, bring magic to this post-photographic technique. It is not a precise two-dimensional record of nature through the optical system of a camera. Nor is it a photogram created by the mere light picture of the silhouette of an object lying on photographic paper when it is exposed. To some extent these photographic images of plants are like the forms created by herbalists who photographed pressed plants in the last century, but technically they remain closely attached to the medium of photography.
There are many factors that determine what the resulting image will look like, and this experimental method continues to surprise us, as well as inspire new work. Even after four years of experience in making heliophytogravura, the processes by which these images are created are still shrouded in mystery. It is an equation that involves many transformations and some of them are just unknown. The result cannot always be foreseen and that always makes these creations interesting, innovative, and exciting. Our procedure explores the possibilities of using analogue photographic materials in new ways and discovers possibilities which few would expect.
LESS IS MORE
Unlike the classical analogue way of making photographs, we have done away with the camera, with its lens and the distance it needs from the subject, which is a basic need for photography. The space between the subject and the recording medium disappears, and the subject is in close contact with the light sensitive material. We have even done away with the negative in its sense as the intermediary between the subject and its photographic image. Here, we don’t work with a double negation of reality, which is the way that normal photography creates an image. The optical transfer of light onto a negative, and then onto a positive, just does not take place. Nor is there any copying or enlargement performed in the darkroom, there is no work at all with the enlarger which used to be an essential part of making a photograph. Sometimes we don’t even use chemical silver-bromide developer for creating an image, which the classic way of making a photograph could not do without1. After such a radical transformation of the photographic process, we are left with a process which is greatly reduced and simplified, standing on the borderline between photography and graphic design. All that remains is the plant material and the photographic paper. It is the paper that becomes the bearer of the image and, at the same time, the surface where the whole of the four-dimensional theatre of heliophytogravura takes place. Although we have taken away most of the individual parts of standard photographic procedure, or perhaps because we have, the image obtained shows an unexpected richness of information which the traditional procedure would not allow. In this sense the technique of heliophytogravura is magic! It takes a complicated procedure and, by simplifying it or, if you like, altering its ritual, creates a richer end product; using black and white photographic materials, a sophisticated coloured image is created. It shows the full range of shades and colours and a surprising level of detail. What’s more, each plant breathes out a particular fluidity onto the image, which is a reflection of its uniqueness. This magic of image making takes traditional materials but uses them in a new way, and has more to do with the change in technique than it has with mere reduction of technological procedure.
The resulting images are magic in the sense that the philosopher, Vilém Flusser, used the word. Even if a photographic image is conceived and created using a strictly technical procedure, unexpected elements of organic nature will enter into it. The negative is replaced with nature, or reality itself, which thus finds a way of obtaining a photographic depiction of itself. In this way, we return the magic of the moment to a technical picture. What appears is a combination of technology at one pole and magic at the other in one picture – a techno-magical hybrid.
When someone is in the process of creating a heliophytogravura he will put his own wishes to one side and rather will try to understand this process, adapting it to what is taking place under his hands. The pictures created in this way will be subject to their own universe of laws and regulations. It is in their character that they are relatively unstable and changeable, so that it is difficult to grasp what they are or to describe or classify them. The creative artist is more like a witness to the techno-magical process, an observer fascinated by the image as it emerges.
We understand the world of plants as an essential part of nature as a whole and, without them, we would not even be here ourselves. We are aware, just as science is beginning to acknowledge, that plants have their own kind of consciousness just as we do, and that, at the same time, they are part of a higher consciousness. All that is lacking is the ego that would set them apart. The maturity of their forms of communication and their “sense of society,” seen in the light of the latest findings in biology, go far beyond our most fantastic idea of what these so called lower biological species can do. This new process for making analogue pictures of plants that we have chosen to call heliophytogravura might perhaps give some clarity to this deeper, hidden, level of the vegetable world, or at least might give us some inkling of it. We, therefore, offer our humble thanks to the vegetable world as co-creators of these remarkable techno-magic images.2