A series of dioramas constructed in the studio by photographer Daniel Shipp that shuffle nature, geography, and physics into familiar but fictional environments.
The unremarkable plants are staged against the backdrop of common urban environments which become storytelling elements on their own and invites the viewer to imagine their own narratives.
Daniel’s visual approach was inspired by Robert John Thornton’s Temple of Flora – a series of engraved plates commissioned in the 18th century that depicts unusual botanical specimens in the form of darkly romanticized illustrations with an otherworldly aesthetic.
In these compositions the physical characteristics of the unremarkable plants I have collected become storytelling elements which, when staged against the backdrop of common urban environments, explore the quietly menacing effect that humans have on the natural world.
From a subjective and ambiguous point of view we witness the plants ability to adapt and survive.
By manipulating the optical and staging properties of photography with an analogue “machine” that I have constructed, I have produced these studio based images “in camera” rather than using Photoshop compositing.
They rely exclusively on the singular perspective of the camera to render their mechanics invisible.
The Mandrake, Mandragora officinarum, is a plant called by the Arabs luffâh, or beid el-jinn (“djinn’s eggs”).
Mandrake is the common name for members of the plant genus Mandragora belonging to the nightshades family (Solanaceae).
Mandrake contains deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids such as atropine, scopolamine, apoatropine, and hyoscyamine.
The roots sometimes bifurcate, causing them to resemble human figures. Their roots have long been used in magic rituals, and today are valued by members of neopagan religions such as Wicca and Germanic revivalism religions such as Odinism.
The roots of Mandrake were supposed to bear a resemblance to the human form, on account of their habit of forking into two shoots which form a rough figure of a human.
In the old Herbals we find them frequently figured as a male with a long beard, and a female with a very bushy head of hair. Many weird superstitions collected round the Mandrake root.
It was common belief in some countries that mandrake would only grow where the semen of a hanged murderer had dripped on to the ground.
And it was believed to cause death to whoever dug it up, as the plant would let out a shriek upon being dug up, which none might hear and live.
Therefore if you would dig up a Mandrake you should either do it from a distance using string, or tie the string to your dog and let him pull it up. Of course, then the dog would die from the terrible scream from the plant.
In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the author makes use of the legend of the mandrake’s scream, and anyone tending mandrakes wears earmuffs to dull the sound.
As an amulet, it was once placed on mantel to bring luck and happiness. Bryony roots were often cut into fancy shapes and passed off as Mandrake.
Small images made from Bryony roots, cut to look like the figure of a man, with millet seed inserted into the face for eyes, were sold to the foolish and uneducated.
They were known as puppettes and were credited with magical powers.
Italian ladies were known to pay as much as thirty golden ducats for these artificial Mandrake amulets.
The Corpse Flower (photograph by Kate Lain, courtesy the Huntington Library, Art Collections, & Botanical Gardens)
“Nature has its own clock.”
After nearly a week of watching, waiting, and preparing for the bloom of the Amorphophallus titanum, or less delicately known as the “Corpse Flower,” this truth spoken by Huntington Garden docent Nancy Howard couldn’t have been more apt.
At approximately 3:01 pm on Saturday, August 23, an announcement was made at the Huntington Conservatory in San Marino, California. The world’s largest flower had begun its beautiful, short, and stinky life.
The Amorphophallus titanum, shorten to Titan Arum, is a rare tropical plant native to the Indonesian rainforests of Sumatra.
It has been known to grow up to eight feet tall and four feet diameter, earning the distinction as world’s largest flower.
The irony, of course, that it isn’t actually a flower. It’s a inflorescence, meaning it’s made up of hundreds of tiny flowers inside the base of the stem.
The Titan Arum has two visible parts: the spadix and the spathe.
The spadix is a fleshy upright column that sort of resembles a cactus without needles.
This part of the plant, if reaches its maximum height, can grow to be taller than Shaq (who is seven foot one inch).
The spathe is the petal-like outer covering. Green on the outside, like a corn stalk, but when the plant opens up during bloom, the distinct purple, maroon color of the inside reveals itself to the world.
It’s truly a gorgeous, unique, and intimidating plant. But what really grabs your attention is the smell.
There is a reason we call it the “Corpse Flower.”
The stench that this flora emits is similar to rotting flesh.
The reason for the smell is to attract pollinators, and in its native habitat that is the sweat bee.
When in bloom, the plant sends out this odor near and far to bring in the bees to help pollinate both this particular flower and others across the forest.
Like nature is known to do, the Corpse Flower has its own unique way of ensuring its survival.
Put mathematics and broccoli together and you have the two most hated things of my childhood. And that’s exactly what the Romanesco Broccoli is all about. But now that I’m an adult, I find that I’m actually able to appreciate the intricacy of this rare vegetable.
The broccoli takes the form of a fractal – a complex geometrical shape that looks almost the same at every scale factor. So each broccoli is made up of smaller florets that mimic the fractal shape to perfection, which in turn are made of even smaller florets of similar shape… and this goes on and on to the tiniest florets.
If you break off a floret from the main head, it looks like a mini-version of the broccoli with its own mini florets. No matter which part of the fractal you zoom into, it will look like an identical version of the bigger picture.
It’s fascinating to think that something like this naturally occurs in nature, let alone on a vegetable. A detailed pattern that goes on repeating itself is rare and certainly a thing of beauty.
The Romanesco Broccoli is nothing short of a mathematical marvel, reminiscent of the Fibonacci series – a sequence of consecutive numbers that add up to the next number. Like: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on. So how can a broccoli imitate a series of numbers?
Simple. On closer inspection, the Romanesco is revealed to have a spiral starting from the center point.
All the smaller florets are arranged around this spiral. In essence, this is the Fibonacci spiral – a series of arcs with radii that follow the Fibonacci sequence.
If you count the number of spirals in each direction, they will always be consecutive Fibonacci numbers. A math lesson on a vegetable – isn’t that amazing?