I am a large format film photographer combining the use of 4×5″ transparency film with botanical specimen. I use a 1960’s Tachihara camera made of cherry wood. The camera, much like my collection of plants, is all deliberate, a slow and contemplative process, but in the end a rewarding and tangible result. I am creating a contemporary herbarium with film and hope to create an interest for others to nurture their own native plant species so that they will be here tomorrow.
My process is very deliberate-quiet and meditative with lots of observing in nature. I am always curious; walking, sitting, weeding, nurturing, planting, collecting, considering what is growing, and then I photograph the specimen gathered. Sometimes within a day or two, other times beyond a few months. I am cautious and mindful to the plant, careful not to disturb a fragile environment. I try to learn as much as I can also bearing in mind that our relationship is just beginning.
Being the youngest child, I grew up observing others. My grandfather would cultivate his own vegetable garden year after year and my mom, under his teachings would follow the same, but she prefers herbs. My parents divorced when I was young so I think I was always looking for a way to reconnect myself and my family. The plants seemed like the most intuitive way for me to find myself.
I live in Asheville, North Carolina at 2500 elevation- gorgeous mountains and a beautiful temperate forest with lots of native and non native plants. I moved to Asheville in 2007 and met my husband here in 2010. It was through this searching and learning of plants that I not only found myself, but him too and since we have been on an amazing botanical journey. Our horizons have taken us many places and our life continues as we transition into our newly acquired abandoned apple orchard in Northern Michigan.We have become quite the gardeners and as a side note, very determined to keep our orchard of 139 trees pesticide free, this year will certainly be a journey.
My work continues to evolve each year. I truly believe that the plants have called me. It all began in 2008, when I was a professional photographer who had relocated recently from a big city to the quaint Asheville town in the mountains. Such a diverse plant life exists in the area and I wanted to know what they were. I took as many botany classes as I could at a local community college and part of our study was creating an herbarium. During this period, digital photography, digital media and social networking were becoming strong and more adopted than the traditional forms of photography. I was becoming lost to an age of anyone with a digital camera was a photographer and it did not have the same passion for me commercially as it had been before when it was film and more intentional. The plants saved me because they allowed me to focus on my love and large format film photography.
My work extends beyond our region of Western North Carolina. My current collection covers as far south as the Dutch West Indies and as north as Michigan. I notice a commonality of plants everywhere I go, but there are also clear distinctions. I find it curious to know if they are edible, medicinal or otherwise useful to us.
In Western North Carolina because of a diverse topography over 2600 plant species live here; native and rare ones like American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), and jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), to name a few.
As time has grown so have my travels and my herbarium. Last year I spent some time at Saba Island in the Dutch Caribbean. Saba is a tropical volcanic island about 5 miles square. Its singular location harbors the most diverse collection of orchids in the world. Also there are edible and medicinal species like wild cilantro (Eryngium foetidum), West Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus), Soursop (Annona muricata), devil’s trumpet (Datura inoxia), and wild tamarind (Phyllanthus amarus).
The past few years have also led me to summers in Northern Michigan. Here I collected poison ivy (Toxicodendrum radicans), bottled gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), and McIntosh apple (Malus pumila) to name just a few.
My passion for film photography as it relates to plants requires patience and an understanding, that given the scope of botanicals worldwide, will take my entire lifetime; and, possibly never completed.
We are all part of one great big cycle. Native plants in general are the ones best suited to a particular environment. Every place on this earth has species that are native to their environment. The biggest problem is that these have been removed through logging or other human influences and we are losing them. Introducing plants tends to be invasive and unconscious of other living things perhaps even disrespectful to the flow of nature. Genetically modified plants (GMOs) have an extreme impact on the ecology of things. Their DNA change is a disruption for all the others in this cycle to adapt. However, they are unfortunately becoming the accepted norm. Native plants tend to have beneficial properties beyond food or medicine. No chemicals or other unnatural practices need to be implemented as the natives are positive for the soil, air, bugs and other creatures like ourselves. If we do not notice and care for our natives everywhere; they will continue to be diminished.
All images © Honour Heirs Stewart