‘Photo’synthesis, the making of a chlorophyll canvas.

What happens when growing grass, varying light levels, and a photo negative coalesce? A modern interpretation of photosynthesis develops.

British duo Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey ‘grow’ art by exchanging paint for seeds and brushes for light. By projecting photographic negatives onto growing grass and controlling light levels they are able to guide chlorophyll production in such a way that spectacular living portraits develop. The photo-growing process takes about a week from seed to finished image.

The process goes like this: A sheet of lawn provides the needed photosensitive surface which is placed in a giant darkroom and exposed to a 400-watt projector bulb passing through a photo negative for prolonged periods of time. The varying densities of the negative’s lighter and darker areas produce a full range of midtones by controlling the light levels in each area. Full bright light produces green, or darker tones, lack of light produces yellow tones.

“It’s very much like developing a black-and-white photograph,” Harvey said. “We project the negative in a completely dark room onto the growing canvas of grass. Where the strongest light is, the grass produces more of the green pigment; where there’s some light, it produces less of it, and where there’s no light, it grows but stays yellow.”

The portraits are best viewed from a distance, as you get closer, the image within the grass will begin to vanish. “It’s like a three-dimensional organic photograph,” Ackroyd said.
“It’s almost like pointillism, except instead of using the points, we’re using the blades.” Added Harvey: “It’s almost like each blade is a pixel, or a brush stroke.”

These organic “photographs” are exhibited in a fresh state only for a short time, excessive light or lack of it eventually corrupts the visibility of the image.

Heather Acroyd and Dan Harvey – sunbathers 2000

Created for HSBC as part of the bank’s partnership with the 2008 Wimbledon Tennis Championships.

‘Bull’ 2003

Photosynthesis ‘Testament’ – ”Taking the intimacy of the portrait and magnifying it to a monumental scale, bears witness to the passing of time. Imprinted within the thousands of blades of growing grass, the face became a living landscape. The image emerged as the blades of grass matured into a vibrant state and then slowly faded as the grass died over the course of the exhibition.”

Park ave residant – 2011

”Afterlife” – Ackroyd and Harvey have captured their subjects on a nearby zebra crossing in Vauxhall.”

”Mother and Child” 1998


7 thoughts on “‘Photo’synthesis, the making of a chlorophyll canvas.

  1. when they say they use a sheet of lawn do they mean the fine cotton cloth lawn is the basis that they plant the seeds on etc? because if so that is the best pun… added of course to the original pun of photo-synthesis…. so cool!

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