Binh Danh Jimmy W. Phipps (18 years old), 2008
Photos : courtesy of the artist & Haines Gallery, San Francisco

Photography and the Nature/Culture Divide

Roger Hopgood
Plant forms are deeply embedded in the history of photography. From Fox Talbot’s “photogenic drawings” of ferns to Robert Mapplethorpe’s eroticized tulips, the intricate details of plants have been comprehensively revealed in photographic form. Yet the recording of flora with the mechanics of lens and shutter has not always been fully regarded as a meeting of opposites. At times, the photographic process itself has been conceived of as a kind of natural accomplice, almost devoid of human determination. Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, for example, who patented his daguerreotype process in 1839, took the view that photography was not so much an instrument that “serves to draw nature” as “a chemical and physical process that gives her [nature] the power to reproduce herself.1 1 - See Mary Warner Marien, Photography: A Cultural History (London: 23. Laurence King, 2006), 23."

Perhaps we should not be too surprised that the early photographers saw their work in terms of a partnership with nature. The Romantics’ adoration of the natural landscape had lingered on into the nineteenth century, and the newly available means of mirroring the world through the application of light and chemistry must have seemed almost magical.

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This article also appears in the issue 99 - Plants

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