Michael Wenye Li / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Mann Library Gallery's "A Sweep of Light" exhibit involves the use of scanner photography to create colorful plant aftwork.

February 23, 2018

New Mann Library Exhibit Captures the Beauty of Plant Art

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Visitors to Mann Library Gallery on Wednesday were treated to an exhibit reception bringing the beauty of plants to life with strikingly detailed photographs from students and faculty.

The exhibit, called “A Sweep of Light,” was produced in collaboration with the horticulture section of the School of Integrative Plant Sciences and organized by curator Jenny Leijonhufvud.

Producing these colorful pieces involves using a black backdrop and standard scanner in place of a camera, resulting in a high-resolution image. “You get the equivalent of a full frame camera, but much less expensive,” said Leijonhufvud.

Some of the works were drawn from the “Art of Horticulture” class offered last spring, which took advantage of the accessibility of the method to develop student art.

Prof. Marcia Eames-Sheavly, horticulture, who taught the class, spoke about the students’ enthusiasm for the method of scanner photography.

“Something happens when we’re in elementary and middle school where we start thinking we can’t be creative,” she told The Sun. “In the Art of Horticulture we start sneaking [students] back into creativity. I can put something on a scanner and there’s something very approachable about it.”

Eli Corning ’20, who had taken the course, told The Sun that he was “thankful and humbled” to be able to share his work. He wrote poetry to accompany his three scans on display, which showed a quarter of an image flipped to create a symmetrical arrangement and expressed “things that were very focused on the senses.”

Corning said he saw the final product “as a testament to the value of not confining yourself to one discipline,” calling the class one of his “most enriching courses.”

The exhibit also afforded attendees the opportunity to try out scanner photography for themselves, arranging plants and then capturing the image on a computer.

Many of the pieces on display were produced by Craig Cramer, plant science, communications specialist for the School of Integrative and Plant Sciences, who has been a major driver of the scanning photography method’s marriage with plants. Cramer was one of the earliest and most enthusiastic artists at Cornell to work with this medium.

“I’ve always been frustrated because I can’t paint and I can’t draw, so when I heard about this technique I ran over and put some flowers on the scanner before I even finished reading the article,” he told The Sun.

Craig Cramer, plant science, center, created many of the vibrant works on display in the exhibit.

Michael Wenye Li / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Craig Cramer, plant science, center, created many of the vibrant works on display in the exhibit.

Cramer’s enthusiasm for these types of images is shared by an international community, and his work has been featured on several book and magazine covers. Still, Cramer said he has never tried to monetize his work, as it would “take out some of the fun.”

Shujie Li ’17 offered her insight on the beauty of creating scanned photographs.

“What I really like about scanning is that it gives you a very nice dark background, and it also gives you this depth on the image,” Li told The Sun. “It’s a natural outcome of scanning, because it only picks up light from short distances, so if it’s too far back from the scanner it creates a good sense of depth.”

Li also contrasted creating scans of plants from photography, saying that in scans “you have all your materials free for you to make the arrangement, but in photography it’s about finding the right angle. So scanning increases the difficulty in making a good composition.”

In all the talk about scanning and method, one focus was never lost: the plants themselves. The format of outstanding colors and ostentatious arrangements on dark backgrounds put the plants in their wide array of forms front and center. For Prof. Christine Smart, plant pathology, the director of SIPS, that is just as it should be.

“It’s fabulous to see people excited about plants,” she said. “Plants provide food, but in addition to their beauty of just being a plant, they are also an amazing tool for art.”

The exhibit will remain on the second floor of Mann Library until March 2018.