Mesmerizing microscopy

I ordered a small microscopic attachment for my iPhone last week, although I could only find one which fitted an iPhone 5, so I had to break the cover off it and customise an attachment using double sided sellotape.

I first experimented by running it over the lichen which I had placed in a glass dome, and was instantly smitten with the results.  The surface of the yellow lichen was like something from an alien movie, with weird suckers and cups all over it, magnified to amazing clarity.

I decided to take it to Birnam Wood to put it to use over some of the tree bark and other surfaces. I took lots of footage by running the microscope over the surface of lichens, mosses, and even into pond water with tadpoles…it was so exciting to be able to see what was normally “invisible” without this ingenious device.

Some screen shots of some of the first footage I took above

Although I was really excited by this new magnifying tool, I was a bit disappointed that the lens was not aligned to suit the camera on my iPhone. As you can see above, part of the circle is cut off, which made me dissatisfied with the result. To improve the fit of the the microscope attachment, I cut the corners off the already trimmed plastic phone cover to which the microscope was attached, which gave me the freedom to move the microscope directly over the camera lens.

The position of the microscope was much better, and over the next few days I took a lot of footage in the wood, which was eventually edited to make a short film which I called “Otherworldly”, as I felt that this view of nature was so alien and “unknown” to me.  It doesn’t surprise me that many of the Romantic poets were inspired by what they saw through the lens of a microscope…a truly “sublime” experience for anyone to behold.

You can view the video by clicking on the link below:

 


 

Jelly babies

I found some interesting species of jelly fungi in the wood yesterday, so I picked a few specimens to take away and draw in my studio. The first that I came across was Exidia Glandulosa otherwise known as Black Brain Fungus. It was growing on a branch of a beech tree, and was in reach, so I gently picked off a few pieces. IMG_8930Exidia Glandulosa or Black Brain Fungus

I find these jelly fungi really intriguing – on the one hand they are repulsive, brain-like, as if from another planet, but at the same time I think they are amazing and I am really excited when I find them.

IMG_9227I decided to make a study of this one, as it looked really strange…I also used a magnifying glass to try to get as many details in as possible.

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Neobulgaria pura var. foliacea Beech Jelly Fungus 

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 The same beech jelly fungus in a more shrivelled up state the next day

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Auricula Judae or Jew’s Ear Fungus

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Another Jew’s ear, but a bit less like an ear than the sample above

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I have kept some of the samples that I collected, as apparently they dry out, and can be revived again when moist. I’m going to experiment with this to see if I can revive them so that they also might be used in a cloche as part of my installation.

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Lichen Landscape

Today I decided to have a go at making a diorama, as it is one way of presenting the miniature, overlooked specimens which would allow them to be viewed from a different perspective.  I have a collection of lichens which I have collected from the floor of Birnam Wood over the last few months, some of them are really quite spectacular, and are not unlike something one might see under the sea in a coral reef.  I have a few that have been drying out, as well as some oakmoss and usnea lichens which have been pressed, so I gathered them together and began to plan how I might display them underneath a large glass cloche.

I used a brick of oasis and pieced it together to form a circle of the desired size.  I began by covering the surface and sides with pressed usnea, which is a pale green hairy lichen, as this gives good coverage and seems like an appropriate base on which to add further specimens.

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I glued the usnea down with florists glue, and also used a few pins to keep it in place. When it was all covered, I inserted the larger pieces of lichen, and also included a twig which I had picked which was covered in crotal (yellow lichen).
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To finish it off neatly, I glued the pressed oak moss right around the sides of the circle, allowing it to stand proud around the edge to add a further layer of interest for the viewer.

diorama19The finished diorama reminded me a bit of a decorated cake, although it would be certainly fatal if consumed!  Below is an aerial view of the miniature landscape…

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I placed it inside the cloche to see how it would look on display. I was quite happy with the result, and it reminded me of some of the exhibits of coral that I had seen in books about wunderkammern that I had been reading.

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I took a lot of photos from different angles both with and without the glass, and was surprised at the “alien” landscape which emerged through the lens. The camera really magnifies the texture and form of the lichens which I hadn’t realised were so amazing. The two photos below are taken through the glass cloche, giving a distorted and surreal effect in some areas.

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The blurred foreground against the crisp texture of the yellow Croat lichen gives a ghostly, otherworldly effect.

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Without the glass, I feel like I am looking into a strange and sinister yet intriguing landscape – almost certainly a sublime landscape where trees and plants have evolved into threatening monsters, a bit like the photographs of Paul Nash.

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Making this piece has allowed me not only to display an unusual collection of lichens, but also to take a digital walk through a miniature landscape, where the weird and wonderful details that lie under our feet become menacing and monstrous when we enlarge them. By magnifying the details, we notice the strange suckers, cups, wrinkles and veins on these specimens which would feel at home in the movie Avatar. The lens is a great tool to illustrate the sublime aspects of the world around us.

Are you ready for this jelly?

I came across a few blobs of what appeared to be clear jelly growing on an unidentified fallen log in an open area within Birnam Wood a few weeks ago. I assumed that they were some kind of fungus, so I took a sample home with me to see what might happen if I grew it in the lab.

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I later found out it is Exidia nucleata or crystal brain fungus, a translucent/opaque jelly cell-like formation, which is quite tough and rubberyI took it into the lab last week, and as it was quite hard, I held it with a pair of tweezers and rubbed it around on the agar jelly, before sealing it up to incubate.

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I decided to try a new approach in photographing the growth; instead of taking the picture in the lab, or at the window, I went into the wood near to where I had found the specimen, wedged the petri dish between a small branch and tree trunk, and photographed the result with a bit of light behind it.

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I cropped and sharpened the image and altered the brightness and contrast to give the result below.

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I’m really excited by this result, and feel it is a great way of photographing the hidden aspects of a particular part of the landscape. I used the same approach in photographing another less vigorous result which I had grown this week also, again from a jelly like fungus, Tremella Mesenterica or Yellow Brain Fungus.

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Above :Tremella Mesenterica or Yellow Brain Fungus.

I really love the photo of the first growth that I took, as it is more abstract and less obvious. I want to experiment more with this approach and need to get back into the lab as soon as it is free so that I can cultivate some more growths.

All in the detail

IMG_6307Yesterday I acquired a microscope to do some of my own research at home. It is fairly old, but it is still very useful as it will enable me to magnify some of the different species I have collected, so that I can then filter out the most interesting ones to look at in more detail through a more powerful lens.

I began by looking at some of the leaf circles that I had cut out last week, which looked great under the microscope. When attempting to photograph them with my iPhone however, they were a bit small and I would have been more successful had I put a larger piece of leaf on the slide.

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I found that the magnification worked best at 100x as anything greater was too dark and obscure. As well as looking at leaves, I also looked at some dried flowers such as birds foot trefoil, clover and a himalayan balsam petal. The results weren’t too bad for a first attempt, although the photography is really tricky, and the photos aren’t as clear as I would like them to be. There is a more powerful microscope at work, which will hopefully allow me to take more detailed  photos with better lighting too.

Below is a slide show and gallery of my results:

 

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Pseudo-superstition, symbols and supernatural snapshots

This morning was lovely and sunny, so I decided to go to Birnam Wood to attempt to make some rubbings from the trees, rocks, and anything else of interest. Unfortunately, once I arrived at Birnam (which is about 5 miles from where I live), the temperature had dropped and the sun didn’t seem to be shining in the village. The trees in the wood were really wet, so my attempts at making rubbings were a complete waste of time. I did take a few photos of the Birnam Oak, which had an even larger pool of water around it then the last time I visited.

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When looking into the pool, I began thinking about superstitions and sayings and that I could invent one about Birnam Wood and a flood…

“If Birnam Wood, e’re doth flood….

it won’t do man nor beast no good

the spirit will then change its mood

for forty days you’ll need a hood “

Just a nonsense rhyme, but probably not any worse some of these superstitious rhymes that already exist.

When I came home, I was playing around with the photos on my laptop, and I noticed when I rotated the “mirror image” photo of the Birnam Oak, a few unexpected “guests” appeared…

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I say what I can only describe as a tree sprite down the centre of the image, with a grotesque beaked head near the bottom centre of the picture. I played around with a few filters to try to enhance the image, until I ended up with the result below.

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I think this image looks really evil, and I noticed what looked like symbols drawn at the bottom of the page. Its amazing what you can find in a simple landscape shot when you learn to look in different ways.

I copied the symbols and enhanced them a bit using photoshop. They look like alchemical symbols, although the first one reminds me of the head of a wildcat with a figure standing above it, maybe it could represent a witch and her familiar.

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I might try building these symbols from twigs and natural objects and perhaps hanging them in Birnam Wood.

Parallel Worlds

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I went for a walk in the rain through Birnam Wood this morning. The river had flooded the wood, and still surrounded some of the trees. Where it had subsided, most of the leaves which had carpeted the paths had been washed away. In some ways, it felt like nature had hoovered up the mess, as the leaves had been turning to mush and mud, and were no longer the crisp attractive autumnal delights which they had been a few months ago.

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Signs of greenery brightened up the wood on this miserable day

Walking near the river bank, I saw signs of greenery, which was actually quite refreshing on such a dreich day. The Birnam Oak sat in a pool of water – a sight which is really rare… so I decided to capture some images of this on my iPhone.The reflections were quite impressive, and made me think, as always, that I am looking through magic mirror into a parallel world. It also brought to mind some research I have been doing lately into divination and scrying – a technique where the future could be read from glass, crystal, water or flames.

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A rare sight – the Birnam Oak standing in water and casting its reflection

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Inverting the photo – a glimpse into a parallel world?

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I began to think about the seasons, and how the location looks completely different in winter, bare, cold, desolate, unwelcoming – compared with the lush and warm wood that I know in the summer, and the amber adorned trees of autumn.  It’s no surprise that the ancient dwellers of this land, the Celts, worshipped the Sun, building stone circles and doing circular dances in its honour (which is where the Scottish dance the reel is derived from).

When I got home, I played around with some of the images I had taken in Birnam Wood,  overlapping photos taken throughout the seasons to create new and mysterious fantasy locations, parallel worlds, dreamlike, as if they had appeared in a vision or prophecy.

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“How deep is your love?”  (digitally manipulated photography)

The steps leading to the wood, combined with Common Knapweed and foliage. Knapweed was used by young women in love divination spells.

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“Sanctuary” (digitally manipulated photography)

The “door” in the Birnam Oak and Greater Burdock/ foliage. Burdock is used in magic to ward off negativity and for general protection.

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“Knowledge is power” (digitally manipulated photography)

Beech trees and dew drops on their mossy bark. The Beech is linked with time, wisdom and knowledge and can grant wishes if you write onto its bark and bury it. Club moss is linked with power (I couldn’t find a magical use for Bonfire Moss, which is actually the variety in the photo). The dew drops look very like crystal balls.

These images are liminal spaces between fantasy and reality, like one dream which merges into another. They are reminiscent of Triptography, a surrealist technique discovered when artist Christopher Thurlow ran out of film and ended up using the same roll over and over again.

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Christopher Thurlow’s accidental image, which he called Triptography

I really enjoyed making these fantasy landscapes and can see potential with making some faux-magic imagery and illusions, or perhaps even melding together images from Birnam Wood and Dusinane hill, as in the prophecy of Macbeth.