Mary Kocol at Rhode Island Center for Photographic Arts

Making Pictures from Plants: Contemporary Anthotypes
Mar 17 – Apr 15
Rhode Island Center of Photographic Arts

The Rhode Island Center for Photographic Arts is presenting Making Pictures from Plants: Contemporary Anthotypes, curated by Jesseca Ferguson and Mary Kocol.

Anthotype, a green and sustainable photographic process dates back to Victorian England and the birth of photography. Mostly abandoned for faster and more easily controlled processes, anthotype images are created using photosensitive material from plants.

In planning this exhibition the curators…  “sought out 21st century “takes” on the anthotype. (They) wanted to know: how are contemporary anthotypists going beyond the curio cabinet wonder of this archaic process? How do other photographers acknowledge, accept, or deny the fragility and the ephemerality of the anthotype? Do they fuse 19th century technology with 21st century methods?Do they exhibit the actual anthotype or a digital facsimile?What questions are they asking that can only be answered with the anthotype?Or is the anthotype simply another avenue for the timeless human pursuit of beauty?”

From the Curators:  Jesseca Ferguson & Mary Kocol 

Jesseca Ferguson: Co-curator

Magical and engaging, anthotypes are photographic images made using light sensitive juices extracted from crushed flower petals, berries, and leaves.  The plant-based emulsion is applied to artist’s paper, dried, then exposed to the sun for days, even weeks.  This technique was developed ca. 1839 by Sir John Herschel, the British astronomer who contributed much to the beginnings of photography.  Herschel benefited from the research of peers and predecessors, notably the pioneering Scottish scientist Mary Somerville, who studied the effects of light on plant juices.  Herschel had hoped to find a viable form of color photography but the time-consuming, unpredictable, and ultimately unstable anthotype proved commercially impractical and was abandoned. Almost two centuries later this once neglected process is experiencing a renaissance – embraced by photographers intrigued not only by its aesthetic possibilities, but also by its sustainability.  Another characteristic of the anthotype is its impermanence. Ultimately the jewel-like colors fade.  Their gradual disappearance over time provides an alluring metaphor.

Mary Kocol: Co-curator

I became intrigued by the Anthotype process after a spirited demo by Jesseca Ferguson in August 2019. We blended beets, spinach, and boiled red cabbage in her studio kitchen. She generously showed me her early anthotypes and rooftop where her prints are exposed in the Boston sun. As a gardener, I was eager to see what else plants could do besides be beautiful and be eaten. Plants can be liquefied to coat paper, then exposed to the sun to produce a curious photogram. I had heard of the anthotype in art school, and I knew that plants could be churned into dyes and inks. The following summer we’d be in the midst of a global Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and making anthotypes became a good escape from it all, forming a new appreciation of my urban garden.

Learn more about the exhibition here.