Photogenic Drawings of Trees are digital reworkings of victorian techniques for the cataloging of botanical specimens. They are equal parts life drawing and photography, and like the Victorian methods, they use the movement of light and shadow to record natural ephemera.
The term “photogenic drawing” comes from William Henry Fox Talbot, a 19th century photographer, to whom early photographs were drawings produced by light. Photography’s origin as a word reflects this belief: photo- light, graph- draw . The scholar Carol Armstrong has said early photography was seen by many of its practicioners as being “…a species of the larger genus of drawing.” Talbot himself said that photography was “… a new if not altogether better form of drawing, in which nature drew herself.”
Anna Atkins, who published a beautiful early 19th century book of cyanotypes, or sunprints, held that the plant specimen participated in its own representation.
This is a refreshing perspective—to share the artistic credit so generously with the leaves and algae. A popular Victorian saying held that [God’s] “… pencil grows in every flower.” Talbot called one of his books, The Pencil of Nature.
Most means for capturing and preserving botanical specimens, whether photograms, nature prints, etchings, or cyanotypes, flattened their subjects into the surface of the picture plane. I wanted to deepen the perceptual depth of field to three-dimensions. But even with increased depth of field, silhouette plays its essential role.
When drawing, the artist’s eyes and hands (and brain) are serial filters in the process of representing—with marks on a page– what light has delineated before him.
In cameraless photography, the specimen lying on the photosensitive emulsion is a similar filter in that its contours and translucencies—like our optic nerves, our motor nerves, our gray matter– focus diffuse light into a drawing implement that leaves marks on a page.
A camera adds a lens, or an eye, to this process of serial filtration.
Computers and digital technology further amplify the drawing process.
A subheading for this series, is Cellulolytic Transpositions. Or to anatomize it: going from 3-D tree to 2-D pulp to 2-D tree simulacrum to 3-D illuminated space to camera lens to computer code to 2-D illuminated space back to 2-D paper pulp. And so on.
Is this still botany? Or is it meta-botany?