Making Pictures from Plants:
Jesseca Ferguson & Mary Kocol, Curators
As part of our ongoing exploration of alternate photographic processes, The Rhode Island Center for Photographic Arts is presenting Making Pictures from Plants: Contemporary Anthotypes, curated by Jesseca Ferguson and Mary Kocol. Anthotype, a green and sustainable photographic process dates back to Victorian England and the birth of photography. Mostly abandoned for faster and more easily controlled processes, anthotype images are created using photosensitive material from plants.
In planning this exhibition the curators… “sought out 21st century “takes” on the anthotype. (They) wanted to know: how are contemporary anthotypists going beyond the curio cabinet wonder of this archaic process? How do other photographers acknowledge, accept, or deny the fragility and the ephemerality of the anthotype? Do they fuse 19th century technology with 21st century methods?Do they exhibit the actual anthotype or a digital facsimile?What questions are they asking that can only be answered with the anthotype?Or is the anthotype simply another avenue for the timeless human pursuit of beauty?”
A Short Story of the Anthotype process by exhibitor Paweł Kula
In the Anthotype process a sheet of paper is coated with an emulsion made from crushed, light-sensitive plant matter. When dried an image is formed, in a contact printing process (using a positive, rather than a negative), exposed to direct sunlight for hours or days until an image is formed by the bleaching action of the sun’s rays. The resultant image is impermanent and will gradually fade, even when stored in the dark.
The exhibition brings together a selection of work from: Lindsey Beal, Edd Carr, Caleb Cole, Nettie Edwards, Christine Elfman, Elizabeth Ellenwood, Jesseca Ferguson (Co-Curator), Brittonie Fletcher, Matthias Hagemann, Mary Kocol (Co-Curator), Paweł Kula, Scott McMahon, Marek Noniewicz, John Opera, Francis Schanberger and DM Witman
Opening Reception: March 17th 5:00 – 8:00pm – Gallery opens at Noon for viewing
Gallery Exhibition: March 17th – April 15th
Panel Discussion on Zoom: April 2, 12:00pm
Gallery Hours: Thursdays & Fridays Noon – 6:00pm, Sat 1:00 – 6:00pm.
Gallery Visits: Available by appointment, email email@example.com
From the Curators: Jesseca Ferguson & Mary Kocol
Jesseca Ferguson: Co-curator
Magical and engaging, anthotypes are photographic images made using light sensitive juices extracted from crushed flower petals, berries, and leaves. The plant-based emulsion is applied to artist’s paper, dried, then exposed to the sun for days, even weeks. This technique was developed ca. 1839 by Sir John Herschel, the British astronomer who contributed much to the beginnings of photography. Herschel benefited from the research of peers and predecessors, notably the pioneering Scottish scientist Mary Somerville, who studied the effects of light on plant juices. Herschel had hoped to find a viable form of color photography but the time-consuming, unpredictable, and ultimately unstable anthotype proved commercially impractical and was abandoned. Almost two centuries later this once neglected process is experiencing a renaissance – embraced by photographers intrigued not only by its aesthetic possibilities, but also by its sustainability. Another characteristic of the anthotype is its impermanence. Ultimately the jewel-like colors fade. Their gradual disappearance over time provides an alluring metaphor.
I first discovered anthotypes in 2013, thanks to experimental Polish photographer Paweł Kula. We were both in Poznań, Poland, attending the opening reception for Stan Rzeczy/The State of Things, an exhibition of work by eight photographers working with antiquarian photo processes. Five of us were American, and three were Polish. (Paweł Kula is included in Making Pictures from Plants: Contemporary Anthotypes, as is Marek Noniewicz, who co-curated Stan Rzeczy.) Paweł’s mysterious, even mystical, video Anthotype/short story was playing in a room hung with his brightly colored images – anthotypes! I became curious about this 19th century plant-based practice and began making my own anthotypes in 2019. There was very little contemporary information available – a chapter here or there, and importantly Malin Fabbri’s helpful manual Anthotypes: Explore the darkroom in your kitchen and make photographs using plants (2011). I wanted to know more about contemporary anthotypists. I wanted to meet them and see their work in person, to exchange ideas. I wanted to know why they were working in anthotype: beautiful, challenging, problematic. What better way to accomplish this than to curate a show?! (As far as I know, there has been no other group international show devoted to the anthotype in New England – if anywhere.)
Jesseca Ferguson: Complete Curator’s Statement
Mary Kocol: Co-curator
I became intrigued by the Anthotype process after a spirited demo by Jesseca Ferguson in August 2019. We blended beets, spinach, and boiled red cabbage in her studio kitchen. She generously showed me her early anthotypes and rooftop where her prints are exposed in the Boston sun. As a gardener, I was eager to see what else plants could do besides be beautiful and be eaten. Plants can be liquefied to coat paper, then exposed to the sun to produce a curious photogram. I had heard of the anthotype in art school, and I knew that plants could be churned into dyes and inks. The following summer we’d be in the midst of a global Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and making anthotypes became a good escape from it all, forming a new appreciation of my urban garden.
I was thrilled to find this vibrant group of international artists working in this medium making poetic, thought-provoking, and personal images. Photographic image making has changed drastically over the past few decades, moving from the chemical darkroom to the digital process. This group of artists has returned to the mystery and serendipity of making photogenic prints by hand with sunlight, anthocyanins, carotenoids and flavonoids, the plant chemicals that produce the fascinating colors we see in this exhibition.
The very nature of Anthotypes is to fade away. They are unpredictable and rely on the plants that depend on sunlight, soil, temperature and weather. Their message is impermanence, ephemerality, and loss. Anthotypes are of the present; they are as fleeting, fragile and exquisite as a garden in bloom.
About the Curators:
Jesseca Ferguson is an experimenter – combining various handmade photographic processes, pinhole photography, collage, and, more recently, artists’ books. Her work has been collected by more than twenty museums and libraries, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; the Museum of the History of Photography, Kraków, Poland; and the Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock Abbey, England. Her artistic and curatorial projects have been supported by Art Matters, Inc., Trust for Mutual Understanding, MacDowell, LEF Foundation, and Engelhard Foundation. Her images and photo-objects have been published in numerous books, catalogues, and articles on handmade photography in the US and abroad.
Jesseca lives and works in an artists’ co-operative building in Fort Point Boston, MA – where the rooftop is ideal for exposing anthotypes to the sun! She received her undergraduate degrees from Harvard University and Massachusetts College of Art and Design and her MFA from Tufts University (in conjunction with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). An artist-educator, she has taught at Boston-area art schools including Massachusetts College of Art and Design and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, among others. An urban dweller, she forages her plant materials from florists, farmers’ markets, and grocery stores. As an ardent recycler and conservationist, Jesseca has been delighted to embrace the “green,” plant-based possibilities of the anthotype.
Website: www.museumofmemory.com @jessecaferguson
Mary Kocol is a fine art photographer and Massachusetts master gardener based in Somerville, Massachusetts. Her pictures were first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art’s group exhibition and catalog, Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort in 1991. She’s a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and several Massachusetts Local Cultural Council grants.
Mary is fascinated with the colors extracted from garden flowers and other plants to create unpredictable and ephemeral Anthotypes. Born in Hartford Connecticut, Mary was educated at the University of Connecticut, and the Rhode Island School of Design where she earned a Master of Fine Art degree in Photography. She works as photographer of the art collection at Harvard University Art Museums. Her photographs are represented by Gallery NAGA in Boston.
Website: MaryKocol.com Instagram: @marykocol
In the Gallery:
This piece was created for A Yellow Rose Project to both commemorate and analyze the ratification of the 19th Amendment in the U.S. and all the work that continue(s/d) afterwards. Using open-source imagery from the Library of Congress, I printed select images from each wave of the feminist movement in the anthotype process, using beets as an emulsion. Each movement is printed in the same bright pink: the suffragists marching for the right to vote; the second wave marching for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment; the inaugural Women’s March in 2017; and finally, a blank coated sheet of paper, waiting for the next movement to be documented and printed onto its surface. The prints are framed and housed in a black box, both protecting the fugitive pieces from the light, while also referencing the ballot box.
SEE FOX RUN
Despite being banned in 2004, fox hunting is still prevalent in the UK. As a reserve of the upper classes, decked out in red coats atop their prize horses – police and politicians turn a blind eye to the vicious blood ‘sport’. The practice not only perpetuates violence to nonhuman animals in the British countryside – it also reinforces age-old hierarchies of land ownership that seek to increasingly restrict the wider public’s access to nature.
Hunt Saboteurs or ‘sabs’ are groups of individuals committed to interrupting these illegal hunts, through tactics such as fox scaring, filming and photographing hunters, and directly interrupting kills. Sabs are constantly attacked and threatened (in and outside of hunts), but do not give up in their pursuit of justice for foxes.
This work is part of a series on fox hunting, that take the form of looping animations printed sustainably. In this case, it is an anthotype animation, printed using only spinach and water in the sun. The footage is of a hunt saboteur, cradling a dead fox. The frames were then hand- bound by artist Amy Pezzin into a one-off book, as seen in the video.
See Fox Run, handmade book by Edd Carr
Green Eye Animation by Edd Carr
Dog Head Animation by Edd Carr
In Lieu of Flowers is an ongoing series of memorial portraits of the transpeople murdered in the United States and Puerto Rico due to transphobia, state violence, and institutional neglect. Part mourning ritual and part photograph, I use the roses from my garden and portraits primarily made by the subjects themselves to create a series of anthotypes, images created using photosensitive material from plants and the sun that cannot be fixed, therefore will eventually fade. This process is an act of devotion and extended witnessing over the course of the days- to weeks-long exposures. When I move the prints from window to window each day to keep them in direct sunlight, I spend time looking into each person’s eyes, connecting with their joy and grieving for their absence. The sun, the source of life, cannot revive them, yet the sunlight that creates each anthotype is the same light that once illuminated each original selfie, connecting us to one another. The resulting work is an examination of community, loss, time, and the impossible effort to extend both the life of my roses and the memory of these stolen lives.
“These are her things,’ he was saying.”These are her things! She touched these things, she chose and bought them one by one, she arranged them lovingly and she thought they were beautiful. Oh my mother, my poor foolish little mother!’ The tears were streaming down his face. — The Book of Ebenezer le Page by G.B. Edwards.
In March 2017, my aunt and Godmother died, leaving a house packed with the accumulation of almost 80 years of a life on this planet, for others to pick over. Eileen was a hoarder and many of her left-behinds were nothing, less than nothing, and yet each till receipt, bus ticket, paper bag and rusty pin meant something to her, or at least, the holding on to them did. Sensing that holding on to them might have some yet to be discovered use or relevance in my life, I salvaged as treasures, items that others would trash. I had no idea what to do with any of these things, yet at the same time, felt unable to let go of them. For two years, bags and boxes cluttered my studio, filling the air with the unmistakable scent of decay. Why couldn’t I move on? It occurred to me that in my imagination, transubstantiation had taken place: the objects left behind were an extension of my loved one’s body and to dispose of them would be to bury her for a second time. As I sifted through my aunt’s belongings, I began to consider ways by which I might work with them not only as photographic subjects but also as the materials and equipment used to make Anthotypes.
Nettie Edwards: full statement
They say that rocks never die, they just change form. What if that were true of everything, including us and pictures? The change happens slowly, so we only notice it in hindsight, like the subtle shift of our faces over time, that photographs reveal so clearly. These pictures are of my hands, my mother’s hands, plaster casts of my past hands, fragments of plaster cast statues, and rock formations. It’s hard to tell which is which. Cameras petrify their subjects. Living hands become cast hands. My hands become my mother’s, and hers became mine. And in the best of pictures, two dimensional hands can be held, or at least almost. Some of these pictures are purple because they’re made by fading paper dyed with lichen in the sun. Lichen grows on rocks. The simple breakdown of the lichen dye molecules in sunlight forms the image. And then when the image is formed, it continues to fade away whenever it’s seen in the light of day. The same light that makes it, also erases it. It will eventually become a ghost image. The breakdown of the original image yields something immaterial, invisible, and valuable in and of itself: memory.
Jesseca Ferguson (Co-Curator):
Lunar Landscapes (original anthotypes, 2021; digital facsimiles, 2022)
A pocket-size lunar atlas from the early 20th century, discovered by chance many years ago in an antiquarian bookshop in Kraków, Poland, has been a constant companion and source of imagery. This tiny book is one of many studio fragments that point me again and again toward the moon. Did I find this book – or did it find me? This early 20th century artist’s rendering depicts what was then an imaginary view from the surface of moon, gazing at the earth. I was inspired to make my own leap of imagination to create photographs from crushed flower petals and berries! To print my images I crushed Swiss chard, purple cabbage, turmeric, elderberries, hibiscus tea, roses, red and purple stock, purple carnations – I was stunned by the alchemy of the jewel-like colors as I brushed the plant emulsions onto artist’s paper. My prepared papers were then exposed to the sun for days, even weeks to get an image. The sun – which nourished these colorful plants by enabling them to grow in the first place – had a further function in creating these anthotypes: bleaching away the color. This is photography by subtraction and erasure – the opposite of other photo-printing methods, where increased exposure to light intensifies the image. Anthotypes are ephemeral and disappear over time, even if kept in the dark. The lunar landscapes were shockingly colorful before they began their inexorable disappearance. I intervened by having the images scanned and printed digitally. Fleeting and transitory, the original anthotype is an anti-document, and reminds me of this sentence by Walter Benjamin (1892-1940): “Separation penetrates the disappearing person like a pigment and steeps him in gentle radiance.”
Everyone has a lockdown story, specifically about what we did to keep us mentally engaged and maintain some level of cheerfulness. Before the pandemic, I already had struggles with insomnia and related issues. Without delving into that aspect too much, it’s worth noting I listen to books on tape all night to help me sleep. One of the most comforting audio files I listen to is ‘Toast on Toast’ by Matt Berry. Matt Berry’s voice is my ASMR(?).
Back to lockdown, I’m teaching online and never leaving my flat. I have a 2.4′ windowsill that’s south-facing. So my workspace is SMALL. I wanted to deep dive into different colours of Anthotypes to better understand how various emulsions render tone and their range of exposure times. This project was part experiment, part teaching tool, and part hilarious.
So then I’m looking at Warhol’s work, thinking, “yes, this is my project.” Matt Berry in plant juice is my answer to Warhol’s Marilyn. Matt Berry is my muse. All of this makes complete sense. I’m walking around the flat trying to impersonate his voice like I’m him reading a list saying, “Matt Raspberry Berry, Matt Alkalised Turmeric Berry’, Matt Lilac- Soaked-in-Vodka-Ground-Onto-the-Paper-with-a-Pestle Berry… ” you get the idea. A daily occurrence for months. I cracked myself up, and thankfully some of my students too.
PUR$UIT OF PROFIT
All over the world, people are slowly starting to take the problems of climate change and environmental degradation seriously. Yet, the most important decisions about how to treat our planet are still driven by the idea of maximizing profits as quickly as possible.
Some financially powerful and influential elite continue to cheer on this selfish short-sighted greed, and many other less wealthy mindlessly follow suit. The collective pursuit of profit is increasingly destroying globally the environment of all people.
In the anthotypes, Matthias Hagemann uses a natural dye, turmeric, to expose images of air pollution caused by fossil fuels, soil degradation, and slash-and-burn destruction of rainforests on valid banknotes.
The image of environmental destruction is fainter to discover than the familiar banknote, but the whole situation begins to overturn. Nobody can deny the discoloration anymore. It points to an urgent need for rethinking.
Mary Kocol (Co-Curator):
I’ve been a Massachusetts Master Gardener since 2015. During the Covid-19 quarantine of 2020, my garden became especially meaningful as I explored the historic Anthotype process. Vivid colors can be extracted from certain flowers and other plants to make light sensitive emulsions to create Anthotypes, (Greek word meaning Flower Print). The finished print is as ephemeral as a bouquet of flowers.
As soon as it’s completed time in the sun, the Anthotype begins to leave us, fade away, like an old memory, after image, or puff of smoke. These prints were scanned at their peak color, right after completing days-long exposure in the sun.
I wanted each portrait to capture the essence of the person. Roses, irises, wild black raspberries, peas, and morning glories became a poetic medium to imprint these faces of family and friends who I missed seeing in real life during the lock down. Flowers remind us of life and beauty and are revitalizing to have around. Living during a pandemic taught us that life is ephemeral and fragile, and to me, the fleeting Anthotype expresses this perfectly.
I am interested in the borderlands of photography, mistakes in technological processes, actions beyond the programme of the camera, non-camera techniques, images found by chance, and those which do not allow themselves to be preserved. I also use natural photo-sensitivity – plants, afterimages, phosphorescent pigment. I am fascinated images which are far from visual experiences of the human. The phenomena of photo-sensitivity and optics inspire me to create unusual cameras and optical toys becoming an element of my artistic acts and workshops.
I live and work in Szczecin / Poland
Thoughts About Anthotypes
Whether exposing light from fireflies onto photographic film, using pinhole cameras, printing with 19th century techniques or incorporating photography, video, sound and found objects as installations, I find a common thread in exploring fragility, lack of permanence and the ephemeral.
Anthotype is one of those obscure and esoteric processes I’ve been interested in for a long time. I’ve introduced it to my students in the history of photography course I teach, as well as alternative processes courses. The aroma of plant matter mixed with a hint of denatured alcohol and subtle notes of photo chemistry coalesce in the darkroom where we coat paper with anthotype emulsion, it is a strange and wonderful olfactory experience. I’ve experimented with anthotypes in my own work, though I haven’t produced a cohesive series yet that explores the process in depth. As I write this however, there are half a dozen anthotypes exposing on my windowsills at home and at work…so maybe a series is starting to simmer.
Ideas about fleeting images fascinate and frighten me at the same time. The anthotype is fugitive, never permanent. It can display a moment in time, an imprint of an object, rich and subtle tones and hues, but like our own memory, these imprints will eventually change and fade over time.
Born in 1971, residing in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Visual artist, promoter of 19th century photographic techniques. In my work, I mainly deal with photography, sometimes reaching for installations, activities in urban space or performances. The main area of my activity is photography, although more and more often I think that I am interested in photosensitivity. I am convinced that the way of writing reflects the process of thinking about an image and its reception; hence I use historical and experimental techniques or ephemeral forms of writing more often; treating them as a kind of key to the language of nature. The irreversibility and constant transformations of analog processes are somehow synonymous with the changeability of the natural world. Maybe what I’m trying to record is the course of these changes?
In cultural education projects, he often uses the potential of photography as a creative tool in building participants’ self-esteem. Reaching to historical techniques and alternative applications of photosensitive materials, he tries to develop participants’ sensitivity to the surrounding world, equipping them with the skills of using the modern visual alphabet in building their own narratives.
The anthotype portraits I started in 2015 as a casual inquiry have grown into a diverse archive of college students I’ve taught or advised. Now the project contains approximately 70 portraits. At first I didn’t really have a clear objective except the desire to return to using a camera to record something around me that I felt was meaningful. The prints are made from various flower and fruit extracts that are light-sensitive enough to be used as rudimentary print emulsions—an instance of nature recording nature. All of the images are rendered in reds and violets derived from the material sources of the emulsions: blueberries, pokeberries, beets, and chokeberries. Soberingly, the prints can completely fade in a matter of a few years; however, I find the fugitive impermanence to be a useful conceptual layer that enriches their presence and time in the world. As new subjects are added to the archive, earlier ones fade and disappear. Their instability and slow erasure complicate not only their value as art objects but also their function as documents of a subject that existed in a specific time and place. Presented at 1:1 scale, they are encapsulated in their own photographic universe, yet seem somehow equivalent to the viewers who encounter them. The collection is a complete work of art, displaying an ebb and flow of recording and erasure, challenging the linear, compartmentalized notions of time that underpin the framework of Eurocentric, dualistic thinking.
Having been trained to archivally process images for stability, it seems strange to call something a photograph when it relies upon an act of prolonged fading. I utilize natural pigments, some gathered from my backyard and others gleaned from the kitchen, in a historic photographic process called the anthotype. Pigments are coated onto watercolor paper in successive layers until enough density is built up. I arrange textiles, usually sleepwear, on top of the coated paper, sandwich the two between plywood and Plexiglass and leave them to expose in the sun for weeks or even months depending upon the time of year and the strength of pigment. The final image is a photogram and is formed by the fading of the pigment in response to how sunlight passes through the garment. In theory the anthotype will fade with continued exposure to light so the very act of displaying and viewing it has a cost in terms of how long lived the image will be. It will fade more quickly than an archivally processed photograph but nothing lasts forever.
Anthotypes are both ephemeral and robust, not unlike the dualities of the natural world. The range of color, ranging from subdued to vibrant provide a range in palette ripe for expression. The knowledge that these images will fade over time, and that this ephemerality is part of the process, serves as a mirror to “life”.
These images are both a celebration and acknowledgment of the cycles and dynamic nature of the natural world. However, there are also notes about the experience of “ecological grief” and the difficulty of recognizing and dealing with the losses due to environmental disruption. How do we, as individuals and collectively, bear responsibility in what has been done to a previously balanced system through our own actions? How do we process all that has happened before our time by previous generations? How do we deal with the existential crisis of our time? For some, this leaves a heavy mark, as we watch the balance continue to fade.
Making Pictures from Plants: Contemporary Anthotypes
Curators: Jesseca Ferguson & Mary Kocol
Lindsey Beal, Edd Carr, Caleb Cole, Nettie Edwards, Christine Elfman, Elizabeth Ellenwood, Jesseca Ferguson (Co-Curator), Brittonie Fletcher, Matthias Hagemann, Mary Kocol (Co-Curator), Paweł Kula, Scott McMahon, Marek Noniewicz, John Opera, Francis Schanberger and DM Witman
Gallery Exhibition: March 17th – April 15th
Gallery Hours: Thursdays – Saturdays Noon – 6:00pm.
Gallery Visits: Available Appointment, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reception: March 17th
The RI Center for Photographic Arts, RICPA 118 N. Main St. Providence, RI 02903
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Bruce Wilson says
Hello. I attended the anthotype panel discussion earlier in the month. Is it possible for RIPCA to collect and post some of the resources that were mentioned during the discussion?
David DeMelim says
Bruce, Glad you enjoyed our presentation on Anthotypes. We have in fact complied a list Anthotype related resources along with videos from the panel discussion. You can find them on our site at https://www.riphotocenter.org/anthotype-resources-for-making-pictures-from-plants/