Proposal

 

Plantscapes (Deconstructed plant forms)

Grant Proposal

Sumeet Banerji

Onion

Onion

Stage 1: Development, Stage 2: Display and Exhibition

This proposal includes:

  • Abstract
  • Production process
  • About Pinhole Cameras
  • Project Stages
  • Budget
  • Ideas Behind the Work
  • Sample Images

Abstract

The Plantscapes are panoramic images of plants with rotational symmetry taken with a circular pinhole camera. The series deals with modern deculturalized mysticism and spirituality. The way they are taken is a response to contemporary visual endless "scroll" culture which is highly screen-based and where images are fleeting.

Production Process

The images are made with a simple wooden pinhole camera (a camera without refracting lenses) by a camera manufacturer in Poland and 120mm Kodak/Ilford film (slowly being phased out of production).

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Instead of the image being recorded on a flat plane of film, the image is recorded on a circular plane of film. Since these are pictures of objects with rotational symmetry, the two circles geometrically cancel each other out and produce straight vertical lines. Please see the diagram below:

diagramcropped2.jpg
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The film is relatively low ISO (100), and the negatives are around 4 exposures wide. This fine grain structure and large negatives mean that the images can be displayed at a very large scale.

Negative in the photo lab

Negative in the photo lab

Negative in the photo lab

Negative in the photo lab

The pinhole camera is put right up against the plant (within an inch or two) and the exposure is made. The exposure range from 15 minutes to 8 hours depending on the nature of the light they are shot in. Different types of lighting produces different effects.

Sometimes the images were shot outdoors with a slight breeze blowing. In some of the flower images, the effect of this can be seen where the petals blur together.

Sunflower (no wind)

Sunflower (no wind)

 
Sunflower (red, some wind)

Sunflower (red, some wind)

 
Sunflower (very windy)

Sunflower (very windy)

In addition, many of the images that were shot outdoors with natural light were shot at times where the lighting and the colors in the sky were changing, like during sunrises, sunsets or during periods of shifting cloud cover. In some cases the changing light conditions create a temporary wash of a certain color. In other cases the lighting is changed in between the exposures (eg. natural light, then artificial).  It is a kind of lighting-layering effect where the same subject is seen simultaneously through different kinds of lights.

The film is taken out of the camera and then developed in a photo lab. The negatives can then be projected on to light sensitive paper, a wall or even scanned to a high quality digital form. The ultimate vision for this project is to skip the digital step in the production of the final images.

The camera itself has no viewfinder so exposure times and setups have to be manually calculated and the results are not seen before the negative is produced.

Pinhole Cameras

A pinhole camera is a light-proof box pierced with a tiny hole. It is the earliest form of image projection. The technique was mentioned in the ancient Chinese text The Mozi and even by Leonardo da Vinci. A modern camera with lenses uses refraction to focus an image. A pinhole camera uses a fundamentally different phenomenon: diffraction. As a result of this, a pinhole camera does not have depth of field that way a modern camera does. That is, parts of the image don't go out of focus (as long as the subject is still). In addition, the camera can also focus on objects which are very close to it (that is how in this series, the camera can be placed even within an inch of the subject). The process is entirely analog, the camera itself is a simple wooden box but the results would be nearly impossible to replicate using even the most precisely engineered and manufactured lens.

The Steps in the Project

1. Development

a) Continue to photograph a wide range of natural forms under different lighting conditions. Roughly 500 total. The results will be periodically monitored since the image capturing process is blind. Shooting this many will allow for new innovations and realizations (since there is no direct past reference for this technique). One roll of film produces 4 images, and I have been able to take on average 5 images a day with one camera. If I use multiple camera setups, I can greatly increase the production rate, meaning I'll be able to produce the 500 images in around 2 months.

b) The film is developed and the results examined by me and a group of creative advisors to select the most successful images to be filed away separately. The series will have around 20 main images. This selection process will take about one month.

2. Display and Exhibition

a) The selected images are test printed and color corrected at the production studio (Dickerman Prints) in San Francisco.

b) Depending on the available funds for the project, the images could be displayed in the following ways (in order of cost & preference) They could also be produced in mutliple of these processes since they will all produce high fidelity results:

  •  Shown on glass/plexi lit from behind
  •  Printed on light-sensitive fiber paper 
  • Printed on a billboard
  • Scanned at high resolution and then made into pigment prints
  • The work could be shown on a screen (the cost of this option is the cost of the screen) and multiple images could be shown on the same screen.
  • Through a slide projector on a wall

c) An appropriate venue is chosen. The images have the strongest impact and greatest alignment with the vision when they are displayed large. For that reason, a venue with large walls with lots of open space to walk around. The effect should be one of immersion in the images, where they become mural-like.

3. Hardcover Book

If funds are available after 1 and 2, a large folio size book will be made. The book will contain information about the work, a record of the process (both written and with pictures) and images from the 500 or so created in step 1.

a) Content development: pictures will be selected, text will be written and edited (possibly with a few guest entries).

b) Layout Design: I have a background in profesional book design for museum catalogs and books sold on the market. This process will take around 3 months.

c) Printing and production. The book will be proofed several times to ensure a high quality of production.

d) Release: The book will be made available to those who wish to purchase it. Credits will include sources of funding for the project.

Budget considerations for the steps above:

1. Development

  • Additional cameras for increased production: 2 cameras at $190 each: $380
  • Plants to be photographed: $400
  • Film is $5 per roll, 100 rolls needed: $500
  • Film development $6 per roll: $600
  • Creation of contact sheets for evaluation: $4 per scan: $400
  • Studio cost $1000 for 2 months

Total: $3280 for 500 more panoramas created over 2 months.

2. Display

  • Option 1: Backlit glass: (Unknown)
  • Option 2: Printed on light-sensitive fiber paper: $6000 per print at 2m wide
  • Option 3: Billboard/mural: $2000 per image
  • Option 4: Scanned and then printed as museum quality pigment prints $700 per print at 2m wide (i.e. for 20 prints: $14,000)
  • Option 5: Displayed on a screen. Cost is the cost of the screen+setup
  • Option 6: Slide Projector: A slide projector can be rented for the duration of the exhibition

*framing is extra – cost varies by size. For pictures below 40 inches in width, the framing cost is around $300. For frames larger than 40 inches, add between $1300–$1800 per frame.

(For framed 60inch wide pigment prints, the production cost is around 2500 per piece, i.e. for 10 framed images: $25,000)

3. Hardcover Book

The book will cost $6000 to design and develop, then printing costs depend on demand at the time. Aiming for a price point of $60.

Ideas Behind the Work

The plants are photographed on their own, outside their natural environments. They are decontextualized. Their proportions are thrown off. By altering some of the visual properties of a familiar object, we are asked to drop our concepts of it and see it with something like a child's vision. This is a process of "deconceptualization". The object appears more as a hallucination. The plant form is deconstructed only using light properties, diffraction and chemicals.

As children, it is easier to zoom in to a visual object or a sound and close off the surroundings to perceive a high level of detail. With a pinhole camera, everything is in focus, even objects that are very close to the camera.

The age we live in is one of mental saturation. We have not set limits on how many bits of information we take in daily. Most of the research on how much is a healthy amount of images, video, short flashing text and Virtual Reality to expose ourselves to has remained in the realm of academia with a few books on the subject making their way into mainstream US reading (eg: The Shallows, Nicholas Carr). The amount of weakly-connected informational bits we can consume safely before seeing a significant impact on the nervous system is not being asked by those who are enabling the information explosion. As a result, we are seeing rampant consumption of rapidly-changing, largely inconsequential and non-actionable inputs. When we scroll down a feed of information, we see everything from news bulletins, life updates from friends, ads. It becomes a kind of externally arranged stream of consciousness. 

We are pulled away from our internal processes and awareness to such a degree that is becomes difficult to reconnect with them and actually remember what it was like to think for ourselves. When we scroll down a feed, our eyes focus, readjust, and skim. This flashing around of the eyes creates an internal state of anxiety and imbalance. The Plantscapes are designed to be a response to this way of processing visual input. It gives us a window, something to look at without or pulling us away from our inner workings. The need of our time is to retrain the mind to be able to focus on single things for a long period of time. The process used to create the Plantscapes is intentionally long and drawn out (the exposure length varies from 15m to 8hrs). This is done to show a different kind of image from the quicker, algorithmically processed snapshot we are growing accustomed to seeing. The scale of the pictures will invite us to spend a little longer with the images, asking for a different way of engaging with them. 

The camera obscura, pinhole technique goes right back to the roots of photography, and of image projection in general. Whether or not the viewers are  aware of the physics of the process used to create the images, my hope is that they will feel like they are looking at something closely connected to the source material.

Many of the flowers have very short lifespans compared to that of humans'. In other words, there are more generations of the life form in a given amount of time. That means that the life form is changing drastically over time. These flowers were bought at local grocery stores and flower markwets where they are cultivated on farms so these are portraits of highly specialized, but a rapidly morphing life form. It is a snapshot in time. The morphing of the life form through the generations follows a consistent geometric logic.

The Plantscapes are a cross between still lifes and landscapes. Their primary purpose is as tools for meditation. That is why the large scale  of the display is very important. The series uses raw materials from nature. It is part of an effort to reconnect the human with the natural world.

Religious Symbols are used to signify the experience of a connection with something other than the self. Natural forms transcend culture. They represent "the deculturalization of spirituality". Every culture has it's own set of mystical and religious symbols. This series of work explores the symbols and objects that seem to be fundamental to multiple disparate cultures. Appreciation for natural forms is a deeply human thing. We may not see all the patterns in the plant form, but what we can call the "ancient mind" underneath finds the patterns and logic and feels a sense of comfort when they are identified. Mysticism is nothing but a connection to our ancient minds. The part of us that has no culture, no identifications with certain groups or ideas. It is a deculturalized, decontextualized space that exists in everyone. If we look back through the evolution of the species, there are certain forms like plants and other natural forms that have existed in the human psyche from the beginning. These are things our ancestors looked at, and I feel like the silhouettes and geometric progressions of these forms remained as old memories in our human/animal psyche.

 

Plantscapes

Pinhole camera, color film

To be displayed printed/projected very large

Work in progress

 

Flower

 

Aloe

 

Aloe 2

 

Work in progress

Sunflower (windy)

 

Red Sunflower (windy)

 

Red Flower

 

Sunflower

 

Red Flower 2

 

Sunflower (very windy)

 

Yellow Petals

 

Sunflower 2

 

Onion

 

Aloe 3

 

Mushrooms and Aloe

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Aloe

 

Aloe

 
 
 

Aloe

 
 

Work in progress

 

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