The geranium: Nature's camera.
January 20, 2002 3:00 AM   Subscribe

The geranium: Nature's camera. The sensitivity of certain silver salts to light was known from about 1727, when Johann Heinrich Schulze published his findings in the Nuremburg Academy of Natural Philosophers. But many natural things are sensitive to light. Long ago people noticed the effect of light on green plants, or how it made coloured fabrics fade. It is the effect of light on plants that makes Roman Photography possible. [via bifurcated rivets]
posted by skallas (12 comments total)
Very cool, skallas. Those interested in other unconventional photographic methods might try Kirlian Photography (which can be done much cheaper with an old flyback transformer and MOSFET circuit), Polaroid Transfers, and of course the Daguerreotype.

Also, the site that's hosted on, Grand Illusion, is one of my favorite sites on the internet.
posted by j.edwards at 5:17 AM on January 20, 2002

Some of the best examples of art using plant photosynthesis as a medium comes from work by Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey. A showing of their work just ended at the Gardner Museum.

Further Reading:
Project history from IGER
Sunbathers, an Ackroyd/Harvey piece displayed at Paradise Now.
Photosynthesis resourses from Arizona State University Photosynthesis Center (just in case you want to invent the next photosynthetic art technique).
posted by iceberg273 at 7:53 AM on January 20, 2002

Lawn Care eXtreme
posted by stbalbach at 8:15 AM on January 20, 2002

This is great. Thanks skallas.
posted by neuroshred at 11:23 AM on January 20, 2002

This is fascinating. Thanks for these links.
posted by normy at 11:26 AM on January 20, 2002

The grand illusions site is also really cool to explore. Thanks, Skallas, now I'm a believer!
posted by Doug at 12:13 PM on January 20, 2002

posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:33 PM on January 20, 2002

The title of that page asks a very good question. When you think about it, it really is surprising that no acient civilization invented photography, especially when you consider what else they invented.
posted by Potsy at 7:00 PM on January 20, 2002

very cool. thanks!
posted by babychet at 9:41 PM on January 20, 2002

Damn it, I can't view the link because of the filters in place here at work. But...

I've experimented with using carnations and geraniums to create photosynthetic photography, with mixed results. The images do appear, but I haven't yet found a formula that gives quite the results I'm looking for. I've heard that some of Herschel's experiments with botanical photochemicals are still viewable today, which is amazing to me as all my experiments faded when exposed to light for awhile.

I can't wait to see this link!
posted by annathea at 6:03 AM on January 21, 2002

The title of that page asks a very good question.

Actually I thought the question was pretty bad. I'll ignore the just strange generalizations about the Greeks and Romans. Greeks not getting their hands dirty? *boggle*

Anyway, the problem I see is that a pre-electricity or pre-gunpower civilization has two main sources of light - fire and sunlight. Sunlight is always moving, so no one will ever notice that a statue of so-and-so on the grass leaves a perfect outline of the statue because the sun moves too quickly.

Even with the geranium, the author didn't use equipment the Romans would have had handly. Its pretty obvious that the image was a slide which was being illuminated with an electric projector. Even then it tooks hours. How much longer using firelight reflecting off an object? Days? Weeks?

I don't see where the Romans would get their "eureka moment" without the prerequisites of either advanced chemistry or more powerful and non-moving light sources.

I think someone has been playing CivIII a little too long.
posted by skallas at 7:03 AM on January 21, 2002

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