Leaf Science

Environment, photography

This week I was asked to give a presentation to the Thamesmead Nature Forum. They were very interested to see my my Leaf Project (in progress) and other ways that I collaborate with Nature in my work. I had some great feedback “spectacular presentation” and “beautiful work”. I even managed to pull off a live cyanotype demo with an Honesty plant (left) that came out rather well.

Meanwhile, the printing on leaves is laborious. From drying, pressing and coating the leaves to printing them in the darkroom. Only a few make the final cut. These are some of the technical difficulties that I have had to resolve through experiments:

In fact this whole process makes me appreciate a pristine uniform pack of photographic paper in a whole new light !

I coat the leaves in liquid silver emulsion and store them in a large light tight metal box that I cart around wrapped in coats under darkness! At one point I lost my car keys and house keys with this cumbersome cargo and had to change all my locks! One plus was the amazing tabacco-like aroma from the soaked lilly pads. I have yet to get a good print on one of these magical lily pads.

My search for appropriate leaves has led to me examining leaves in great detail, the variety is immense. The patterns in Nature, the veins , the leaf shapes, the infinite fractals. For sometime I have been engrossed with the pattern of branching, branching that could be echoed in a branching multiverse.

Equally fascinating are the distorted leaves I find, those which grow differently due to disease, or those from roadside trees that are tarnished with black pollution.

Some of the leaves have been collected from specific sites, such as Tidemill Gardens before the trees were ripped up to make way for new flats. These are large and frail and have a different quality (persona if you like) to the fresher leaves. It becomes an interesting exercise to match the faces with their leaves. I have a bunch of tiny leaves that I use as test strips. The fact that I am going through about 25 leaves to get 1 print I am happy with, makes them even more special and precious to me. “Exquisite” was a word someone used to describe them, and that’s definitelty what I am aiming for.

I am very grateful for a grant from the Richard & Siobhan Coward Foundation that has enabled me to buy materials for this work.