The body of images in “Permanent Botanicals” illustrates the uncanny nature of artificial foliage while exploring a common depiction of nature’s elegance. Using reimagined 19th and 20th century printing processes created for duplication and botanical studies, Newton investigated new species of botanical specimens created for sale at department stores such as Michaels, HomeGoods, and for commercial displays.
As a permanent homage to our admiration of aesthetes in nature, the faux house plants serve as commercial monuments in our domestic spaces, which confront our motive in seeking beauty, symmetry, and balance.
Newton’s large-scale photograms were reinterpreted using William Henry Fox Talbot’s early photogram process (1841). “Leaves of Orchidea” (1839) was published and extended the process to the practical use of documenting botanicals using the calotype process. Subsequently published “British Algae: Cyanotype impressions from 1943-53” by Anna Atkins, preceded Talbot’s process with the first ever book illustrated by photography. Newton’s photograms are to-scale records of large faux houseplants. Using a technique, which records the tree’s shadow from a distance using a custom built point light source flash, the sharp light reduces the subject to its graphic and structural elements. The tree’s silhouetted presentation stands as a method for examining its fiber quality and detail, while juxtaposing its uncanny allusion to a healthy symbol of life.
During the mid 19th century, inventor and botanical illustrator, Alois Auer, developed a process of duplicating and printing plant specimens from nature. Later perfected by Henry Bradbury, The “Auer Nature print” created a fully tonal 1:1 print with exceptional clarity using fragile botanical specimens such as leaves and ferns. Placing the leaf on a thin sheet of lead, the leaf was sandwiched between two thick plates of steel before being pressed using a hydraulic press under hundreds of tons of pressure. The lead plate accepted the shape of the leaf in a detailed cavity, which were then used as molds for pigmented gelatin to create a rich tonal range print.
Because of the immense weight requirements for the hydraulic press to push through lead (often times 500 tons), the process was relatively short-lived and was soon replaced by other processes such as gum arabic printing plates and photographic processes.
Newton’s nature prints exhibit clippings from faux plants sold at department stores using a similar technique. The lead plate molds are inked as intaglio plates and printed using an etching press. Newton also used the cleaned plates to create embossings, which highlight a three-dimensional impression of his faux specimens.
All images and text © Marc Newton
By Marc Newton
Edge of Humanity Magazine is an independent nondiscriminatory platform that has no religious, political, financial, or social affiliations.
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