Two UAF graduate students from different schools are working together to blend their disciplines, with beautiful results.
“I am very excited to do this,” said natural resources student Yosuke Okada. Working with fine arts student Adam Ottavi-Schiesl, Okada began providing the necessary plants for the project at the suggestion of Professor Pat Holloway. Ottavi-Schiesl is printing photographs onto the leaves. The students received a College of Liberal Arts Center for the Arts grant to conduct their research. Upon completion of the project, there will be an art show on the UAF campus.
“This is a nice collaboration between the arts and science,” Professor Holloway said.
The chlorophyll photographic art is made from black and white film and living plant leaves. The prints are made by placing negative or positive film on the leaves and exposing them to light. The film blocks the light rays from reaching the leaf in specific places, thus producing a fixable image directly on the leaf after varying amounts of time. The technique evolved from a process known as the anthotype, invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842. To make an anthotype Herschel created a layer of emulsion from crushed plant material and exposed it to direct sunlight until an image appeared.
Ottavi-Schiesl first attempted to make chlorophyll prints last fall because of his interest in alternative photo processes, in conjunction with his thesis work. He said the weather and lack of sunlight in Fairbanks, along with his limited knowledge of botany and light, led to failure. After contacting Dr. Holloway, horticulture professor, he met Okada, whose research focuses on the use of light emitting diodes (LED lights) in high latitude greenhouse production. Most of Okada's research is performed in Professor Meriam Karlsson’s controlled environment agriculture laboratory at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.
The students are working together to create unique photos using Okada’s LED lights, plants, and botanical knowledge, and Ottavi-Schiesl’s photographic knowledge and images. “The images are quite stunning and surreal,” Ottavi-Schiesl said.
“It’s an excellent way to use unwanted leaves,” Okada said. He said his contribution has been growing the plants, providing the greenhouse lights, and helping Ottavi-Schiesl understand plant processes. “I hope I have given good advice,” Okada said. So far they have experimented with spinach, poinsettia, and bean leaves.
Both students have had to find time to fit the project into their already busy schedules. “It was an eye-opener for me,” Okada said. “It’s a good way to get the attention of the public and stimulate kids’ interest in plant science and art. It is worth doing.”
Yosuke Okada (center) discusses greenhouse growing with visitors at the Chena Hot Springs energy fair in August 2009.