Art and Science of Photosynthesis

Ackroyd & Harvey  

The equivalent tonal range developed in a black and white photograph is created in the grass photograph in shades of yellow and green. These organic photographs are realised through the light-sensitivity of the pigment chlorophyll and as such, light can corrupt the visible image. In a living state the grass photograph can exist in subdued light for short periods. In time though the image inevitably fades taking on a quality akin to an old tapestry and, as the contrast lessens, there comes a point when the image disappears.

The transient quality of these chlorophyll photographs has an evocative power, which holds importance for the artists. It also became a concern to explore the possibility of retaining the picture more permanently in the grass.

Wellcome Centre Sci-Art Award
In January of 1997 Ackroyd and Harvey read an article in the magazine New Scientist about the pioneering work of scientists and biochemists at IGER (Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research), and followed up contact with a visit to the centre based in Aberystwyth, Wales.

From their first few meetings the artists and scientists struck up a personal rapport and an immediate outcome was a successful application to the Wellcome Centre Sci-Art award. They were given a research award to collaborate on the application of the stay-green grass developed by Professor Thomas and his team to the photosynthesis photographs. The predictable process of chlorophyll loss in the life-cycles of plants is called senescence. A variant plant in which senescence is visibly delayed is called a stay-green. Stay-green types are known in many species and the new strain of grass developed by IGER is developed from a naturally occurring fescue grass through a combination of advanced biotechnology and traditional plant-breeding methods.

The application of the stay-green grass in the photographic art of Ackroyd and Harvey has allowed them to rapidly dry the grass canvas with virtually no loss of the green pigment. The photographs can be exhibited for long periods of time in low light levels to further inhibit the bleaching effect associated with ultra-violet light.

National Endowment of Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) Award 2000
This initiative between the artists and scientists has grown out of a truly two-way perspective on the living world - the artists benefiting from the biological and technological solutions and possibilities arising from scientific research, and the scientists learning a new way to look at, analyse and interpret biological processes. Using a high-resolution imaging technique (hyper-spectral analysis) to track subtle changes in colour pigmentation of grass leaves, the image data will be used by the scientists to relate to physiological and molecular indices of the progress of leaf death. Research commenced in February 2000 under the project name The Ephemeral in Focus. The NESTA award supported a major exhibition of Ackroyd and Harvey's photographic photosynthesis work and related scientific developments, at Beaconsfield, London, May 2001.
The artists

The artists

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