Leaves & Pods, Author's Note

As every photographer knows, the ordinary is anything but. For years I have mined my household for everyday things and used my flatbed scanner to examine them: dryer lint, vegetables, balls of yarn, even the collections of stones piled around the house, which gave rise to the first book in this series, Beach Stones. When I found a perfect skeleton of a lemon leaf in my backyard compost bin—the scanner captured it in all its delicate, decomposing glory—I was inspired to venture into the neighborhood and to the botanical garden to look particularly at leaves and pods.

The first leaf images to emerge from the scanner on to my computer screen startled me with the intensity of their color and form. After working for months with the subtle variations and muted hues of softly silhouetted beach stones, I was delighted by the sharp visual detail each leaf provided: the distinct shapes; the intricacies of the vein systems; the range of brilliant, saturated color; the crisply smooth or spiny edges. Learning the purpose those attributes serve in sustaining both the tree and life on our planet has been thrilling.

My use of a scanner instead of a camera is well suited to exploring forms in nature such as leaves and pods. The focus of scanner photography is strictly on the object, and it allows for a fantastic clarity as I zoom in closer and closer. It follows in the tradition of Karl Blossfeldt, who built his own large-format camera in 1896 to make stupendously graphic images of plants, and expands on the concept of the photogram, an image made by setting an object directly on the exposing photopaper.

The scanner’s flat glass surface is a fluid conduit for rendering three-dimensional objects into two-dimensional artwork and lets me design quickly. Timing is important: I had only hours—or at most a day or two—before the leaves began to deteriorate. I even devised a traveling studio with my laptop and scanner to capture them on the road.

Although, on close examination, each detail of leaf and pod seems like an exotic revelation, most of the ones shown here are relatively common. They come from the trees in my San Francisco neighborhood or in friends’ backyards, from Boggy Meadow Farm in New Hampshire (thank you, Lovell-Smiths) and from Sky Farm in Maine (thank you, Lamonts). Many come from two fantastic horticultural realms, the San Francisco Botanical Garden and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

This project has been a collaboration with Mary Ellen Hannibal and many others. I must thank Jackie Fazio and Leeanne Lavin at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for guiding me through their collection. I thank my husband, Ken Pearce, and my three children, Eliza, Deedee, and Andrew. Their delight in my projects inspires me, and their advice almost always results in something better.

- JLI, January 2006