Two years ago I started photographing and creating salt prints of Pennsylvania native plants. Now I am embarking on a journey to document native botanical species throughout the country.
Titled “The Natives,” this body of work will feature native botanical inhabitants of nine ecoregions of the continental United States . My goal is to foster awareness of the threat faced by these plants by capturing their diosyncratic beauty, presenting them as visual objects removed from their natural context and displayed as singularly aesthetic.
Using the historical salt printing process, I plan to capture the exquisite, almost regal, detail and tone of these plants as well as the history and evolution they impart. Each print is created with precise detail yet exudes a soft, tangible feeling. Biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, and natural conservation practices have become essential action points in both urban and suburbanized areas.
Education and awareness of our natural surrounding is more critical than ever. I recall realizing that I could identify 50 corporations by their logo, yet if you put a dozen native plants in front of me, I couldn’t name a single one. The journey of creating this series allows me to share a conversation and educate through my passion for both the environment and the photographic print.
Why Native Plants?
While training recently to become a certified Pennsylvania Master Naturalist, I became far more in touch with native plants and the crucial role they play in our landscape’s biodiversity.
"As open space disappears, it becomes increasingly necessary to look at our own landscapes as a refuge for biodiversity. Native organisms including plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, and insects create an intricate web of life. This is a wonderful natural orchestration with each species’ life cycle highly dependent on the others.
" For example: Spring wild flowers are pollinated by and provide nectar to tiny flies. These flies become food for early spring birds. The timing is orchestrated perfectly. It is not a coincidence that the local native plants have seeds and berries ready just when the birds need them. Bird droppings are the best way to get their seed dispersed. Plants and animals that have evolved together depend upon each other for survival.
"Unfortunately, native plants, a vital part of the natural web of life, are being lost at an alarming rate. Removing a certain native plant from the landscape will likely remove the insect that feeds on that plant, which in turn may eradicate the bird that feeds on that insect. And this is just a simplified example. The loss of a species can quickly escalate to affect an entire ecosystem. To paraphrase Paul Ehrlich, author of Native Plants: Relationship of Biodiversity to the Function of the Biosphere, removing native species from an ecosystem is like taking rivets out of an airplane wing; it is impossible to know which one will be the last one that
- The Native Plant Society of Ohio
A wonderful source on this subject and a true inspiration to me is Doug Tallamy, professor and chair of entomology and wildlife ecology The University of Delaware. He is the author of Bringing Nature Home, which explains why growing native plants in your own backyard can help sustain the crucial biodiversity that is quickly becoming extinct.
Why Salt Prints?
In 1834 William Henry Fox Talbot discovered that by coating a sheet of paper with sodium chloride (salt) along with silver nitrate, one could make a light-sensitive emulsion that would produce a permanent (fixed) image. This was the discovery of photography. One hundred seventy-six years later, I can still walk into my darkroom, coat my paper with virtually the same chemistry that Talbot used, and produce a salt print that achieves the kind of tonal range and detail that rival even today’s most advanced printing methods.
I have always worked and experimented with alternative photographic processes. The historic salt printing process allows us a glimpse into the analog form of photography that is rapidly disappearing. It is, for me, the perfect vehicle for complimenting the subject both physically and metaphorically.