Seeing Seeds Questions
Robert Llewellyn answers questions related to his recent book, Seeing Seeds (2015):
Why and how did you begin to work on that project?
I had published a book on trees and flowers and wanted to know even more about how the plant world worked. So I went to the source — seeds. It was a whole new world. So I chose this project and suddenly seeds are everywhere, hiding in plain sight. So I began collecting. I have been collecting things forever. I think when you have things to collect you start to really see the planet. I don't think it matters what you collect.
How long did you work on it?
Two years. Timber Press wanted to publish the book and the editor, Tom Fischer, gave me list of seeds to find. It is really not work. It is fun.
Can you describe your project in personal words?
We all have a round trip ticket to planet Earth. So imagine Earth is a new planet. What would you do? You would say "wow" a lot (what humans involuntary say when they experience something "new".) So I wanted to explore everything as a new adventure and find out how everything works, and how they are all connected.
What technology do you use to take your photography? Can you describe it in details please?
I brought seeds into my studio to photograph them. Some are a foot across and some are the size of the period at the end of this sentence. To make the image sharp from top to bottom, I used a technique called "focus stacking". I would put the seeds on a glowing light table and do a series of photographs at different focus points from top to bottom, overlapping the sharp parts. I then loaded the images into stacking software, which rendered one image that was perfectly sharp.
What is your home studio like?
My studio is half of my house. I like working at home. I live on the Rivanna River outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. I have 60 acres of land so I could go out my door and collect seeds.
How do you choose the seeds?
According to Kew Gardens there are 240,000 flowering plants on this planet. The mission of the seed is to create offspring, as is the mission of all life on Earth. So with the editor we selected categories of seeds. One was food, and some of the seeds came from food stores. Seeds have protein and starch that keep warm blooded animals, like humans, alive. We eat seeds every day. All seeds are unique. I went for the most unique ones I could find. Like the Devils Claw, (which will draw blood) to the castor bean that shoots its seeds 30 feet.
Beautiful seeds with each one being different. If you heat and press castor beans you will get very slippery castor oil. The oil is often used as a laxative or oil for race cars. If you eat the seed raw you will die. The seeds contain ricin, one the most deadly poisons on earth. Heating destroys the ricin.
Do you have to prepare them before taking the photographs? How?
I look at them from all angles with the camera. They are 3D so there are a lot of choices of how you look at them and photograph them. I explore the seed for a while and at some point it will call out to me. I often have 10 or more versions of the same seed. I have over 2,000 images of seeds.
What does this work tell us about the life of seeds?
I found all plants have a plan to make seeds and reproduce. An example is the blackberry lily, often found in forests, is a small plant with brilliant orange flowers. The colored flower is to attract bees and other pollinators. Plants often depend on animals to get pollinated. Then a transformation occurs. The orange party dress falls away and the blackberry lily makes a black seed pod that looks identical to a real blackberry. Bears and other forest animals eat the seeds which eventually go through their digestive system. They transport the seed. A plan.
Do you want to add something?
See the planet. Collect things. Make everything as if seeing it for the first time. There is still an enormous amount about Earth that is unknown. Discover for yourself. Look at things without naming them. When you name something you think you are done.
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