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Vita occulta plantarum (The Secret Life of Plants)
Kirlian Photograpy by Mark D. Roberts
September 8, 2012-January 12, 2013
In the early 1980’s, while working on a portfolio of portraits of artists, I wanted to capture the essence of composer John Cage utilizing a Kirlian camera. My preconceived idea was to record John’s hands on film, getting his aura. Mr. Cage had other ideas about how he wanted to be photographed (I think he was afraid of the electricity). In any case we ended up with John throwing a series of seven quarters on the film in a very random fashion. This became my portrait of Mr. Cage.
This was also the new age era and Kirlian photography was all the rage with every would-be mystic and Guru. Not only were they capturing auras and dispensing spiritual advice, but in some cases medical advice. In acquiring my camera I spent several months conducting several in-depth interviews with Dr. Thelma Moss, the leading Kirlian authority and head of the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. To assure her that my interests were that of an artist, I explained to her that I had no interest in diagnosing spiritual or psychological ailments. Only then did she refer me to her designer, and some months later I was in business.
In this body of work,Vita occulta plantarum (The Secret Life of Plants), as in all of the Kirlian images I produce, I’m fascinated by what the subject reveals when photographed by my camera. Not only its aura but also the many unseen topographical layers. I’m intrigued continuously by the constant discovery of layer upon layer of new information.
As a side note, while foraging about looking for new and unusual specimens, taking them to my darkroom and spending hour after hour photographing them, I have developed a very special relationship and respect for them. In the end of it all, maybe I have turned into some sort of new age guy. I hope Dr. Moss can forgive me.
In any case I hope you enjoy the images.
About The Process
The nonconventional photographic process referred to as Kirlian photography has existed since the late 1890’s. It deals extensively with high-voltage electricity. Electricity is used to make electro-photographs, commonly called Kirlian photographs. The image recorded on film is the corona discharge (spark) from the object being photographed.
The Kirlian camera used to produce these images is the largest known camera in existence. It accommodates sheets of film 12” X 20”, both continuous tone (black and white) as well as color.
The camera consists of a flat copper plate upon which the film is placed. An object (leaf, flower, hand etc.) is placed on the film, and high-voltage electricity, at very low amperage, is pulsed through the metal plate. The electricity passes through the film exposing it and producing an outline of the object on the plate as well as a surrounding corona. If the film is color the corona discharge will contain various colors. The final print will also often contain topographical features not visible to the naked eye.
The end result is somewhat unpredictable and often times very surprising.