Umbrella Palm

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“The Lumen print process I used for this project sandwiches a plant specimen between a sheet of glass and a sheet of fiber based black and white photo paper.”
– Chip Hedgcock

Charles Hedgcock, RBP, FBCA

What was your concept when creating this image?

This image is one of many images created as part of an Artist in Residence program at Biosphere-2, a scientific research facility near Tucson Arizona. The project was to provide an artistic interpretation of the diverse and changing plant life in this world-renowned facility for a wide audience. In addition, the images were created to provide an interpretive tool for the science being conducted within Biosphere-2 through the exciting confluence of art and science. The original is approximately 20"H x 16"W. The print was created on a sheet of fiber based black and white gelatin silver paper using a camera-less photographic process called lumen prints.

Tell us something about the creative process you use when coming up with a photographic solution to a problem/assignment.

I have been experimenting with the lumen print process for some time and approached the Biosphere-2 folks about their artist in residence program. They agreed that lumen prints would make an exciting interpretation of the wide variety of plants within Biosphere-2. Lumen printing isn't exactly a reliably reproduceable process, it's kind of a crapshoot much of the time to be honest! A great deal of experimenting goes into having a feel for the types of plants that will work well and the types of fiber based black and white paper that will give results that I find aesthetically pleasing.

What technical issues did you have, or have to work out, to create this image?

The Lumen print process I used for this project sandwiches a plant specimen between a sheet of glass and a sheet of fiber based black and white photo paper. This is all clamped with spring clamps to a sheet of plywood and the whole thing left in direct sunlight for extended periods of time. This was the first time that I had ever worked with plant specimens this large. This Umbrella palm specimen used a single sheet of 16"x20" photographic paper, but some required multiple sheets of 16"x20" paper. I had to devise a way to sandwich and securely clamp multiple panes of glass, and sheets photo paper around some very large tropical leaves.

Tell us something about the subject of this photograph.

This is one of the 100 or so varieties of plants growing within the five biomes of the 3-acre glass-enclosed Biosphere-2 facility.

What is your photographic background?

I have been interested in photography since high school where I took every photography class my school offered. I also volunteered for the school yearbook. After high school, I bumped around in various collage photography programs and finally completed a degree in Commercial Photography at Brooks Institute.

I have worked as a medical photographer and as a photographer/graphics person for the Department of Neuroscience, and later for the Department of Entomology at the University of Arizona. I participate as a volunteer citizen scientist for international biological surveys in Northern Mexico. I also do fine art photography with digital, silver gelatin, and alternative processes.

Who are some of your favorite photographers?

Edward Weston is probably my favorite photographer. I am also heavily influenced by Karl Blossfeldt, Frederick Sommer, and John Sexton.

What photographers inspire or influence you?

All of the photographers mentioned previously have inspired and influenced me. I also find inspiration in the various photographers that submit their wonderful work to the BioImages Salon each year. On occasion I have had the great fortune of being one of the judges for BioImages. I really looked forward to seeing the images that were submitted each year. There is so much wonderful work submitted. It's hard not to get excited and inspired when looking at it.

Do you have any advice for photographers interested in a photography career in biomedical/life sciences?

There are many paths to a career in Biocommunications. For me I think my background in commercial photography and interest in natural history served me very well. So, I would suggest a solid technical background in photography, including lighting and studio photography. Additional coursework in biological and scientific photography, as well as scientific illustration would all be useful. Training in one's field of interest, such as human anatomy, entomology, herpetology, general biology and/or botany, would also be helpful. Classes in anything to help you know more about your subject. But I don't think it's enough to simply learn the mechanics of photography, you need to sharpen both your craft and your eye.

The French photographer Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, known as "Nadar", had some pretty great thoughts on the subject:

“The theory of photography can be taught in an hour; the technique in a day. What can’t be taught is the feeling for light; … it’s the understanding of this effect which requires artistic perception. What is taught even less is the immediate understanding of your subject … that enables you to make not just a dreary cardboard copy typical of the merest hack in a darkroom, but a likeness of the most intimate and happy kind.” – Nadar

How has your membership in the BCA helped you?

I have found my membership in the BCA to be extremely valuable. I have met and engaged with the membership online and in person to discuss and discover photographic techniques and creative ideas. The membership is a friendly and knowledgeable resource for all things photographic, as well as those things that apply particularly to the field of BioCommunications.

You can see more of Chip's work at charleshedgcock.com.