28 August 2007


here are a few favorites from under the microscope. these are 3 different samples of the same soil, thinned to different consistencies on the slides, and viewed at varying magnifications.

visit my positing on this 400,000 + year old bacteria to learn more.

27 August 2007


finally, some photographs!

i'm happy to be able to share some digital images with you while my 70 rolls of film are being processed.

here are a couple welwitchia mirabilis in the namib desert. they're native only to parts of namibia and angola, and like the baobabs, they are thought to be in the ballpark of 2,000 years old. there may be some older ones in another part of namibia. visit my previous welwitchia posting for the full story.

the big welwitchia on the namib naukluft self-drive route.

the just as big if not bigger welwitchia, (um...not an official name) also in the park, but not marked on maps.


These Baobabs are scattered throughout the Limpopo Province of South Africa and are hovering around the 2,000 year old mark.

(visit my week 1 posting for the full story on the baobabs.)

1) The Sagole Baobab
Probably the oldest Baobab, but unconfirmed.

2) The Sunland Baobab
Yes, there is a bar inside the tree.

3) The Pafuri Baobab
This tree is inside the Kruger game preserve and requires an escort of armed rangers.

4) The Glencoe Baobab
This tree was partially uprooted hundreds of years ago. The roots became branches, creating its unusually symmetrical form.

20 August 2007



so there i was. the last stop on my trip, and my first time doing artwork in a biology lab. i was meeting with martin bay hebsgaard, a PhD candidate in ancient DNA and evolution at the niels bohr institute at the university of copenhagen. i was put in touch with martin by sarah stewart johnson, a PhD candidate in planetary science at MIT, and a primary researcher on the siberian bacteria. working with eske willerslev, director of the ancient DNA group, sarah's research is about to be published by the proceedings of the national academy of sciences. their remarkable findings show that the bacteria were not lying dormant in the permafrost, but rather showed continuous DNA repair -- an indication that these ancient cells have been continuously living. for how long?

folks, we have a winner. 400,000 to 600,000 years.

these findings are particularly interesting to sarah,
who is working on a dissertation entitled "mars in the late noachian: evolution of a habitable surface environment." her findings here on earth raise the point that similar discoveries of viable ancient life are possible on mars or europa (one of jupiter's moons) if ever such life did in fact exist there. um...wow.

but back to the earth. first stop, the freezer. it was packed with soil samples from canada, hungary, and siberia. i only needed a small quantity to view under the microscope, so we headed into the clean lab (kept clean with UV light and positive air pressure) in our white safety suits.

yep. that's yours truly.

it was hot as all get-out in there, so thankfully i could do the actual work en plein air. well, outside of the suit, at least. martin carefully transfered a small amount of the soil into another container, which we would take with us to a different building to take a look under the microscope. henirk glenner, a colleague of martin's, allowed me to use his digital imaging setup to photograph. it works like a regular microscope -- we prepared slides, adjusted the magnification, focus, and light -- the only difference being that a specialized digital imaging component is attached both to the microscope and a computer. an imaging application allows you to see what's under the microscope on the screen, make exposure adjustments, and then capture the image. i was transfixed for days, changing views and settings and magnifications.

the research done on this bacteria (class: actinobacteria, many within the order micrococcaceae and genus arthrobacter ) was not done visually, so i likely produced some of the first images of it -- or at least where it lives. it was difficult to tell what i was looking at, and i probably needed magnification powers beyond what was available. not to mention the question of how long the bacteria can survive at room temperature. so i created images according to my own aesthetic choices within the given scientific parameters, leaving some questions unanswered.

it was a thrilling last stop on a truly eye-opening trip.

oh, and i want a microscope.

12 August 2007


i arrived in edinburgh in the late afternoon in the rain, returned my rental car, and headed to the center of town where i would meet a group of students from rollins college (where i will give a lecture on this project in september) lead by friend (not to mention professor and talented artist) rachel simmons. (check out rachel's blog for an alternate account of the next few days.) the fringe festival was in full tilt, and the city was buzzing with activity, the locals having long since split town. i slept with ear plugs to muffle an event in an adjacent building which raved on into the wee hours of the morning.

what seemed like mere hours after arriving in ediburgh, rachel and i hopped a train to glasgow. at this point in my travels i was starting to wing it when it came to the small stuff. (looking up directions ahead of time, checking for opening hours, for instance.) travel fatigue was setting in, combated only by my desire not to miss opportunities. i had been looking forward to visiting the fossil grove since i left new york, so that was first up on the day's loose agenda. after getting some completely incomprehensible directions from a scotish bus driver, we finally got to the bus station, chose a stop, and found a less heavily accented local to point us in the right direction.

the fossil grove is fantastic, and unlike anything i'd ever seen. the fossils are the remains of an ancient forest, around 330 million years old. unlike petrified forests, which are formed from the actual wood of the trees (growth rings ofter still in tact), these fossils are actually casts of their former selves, capturing the broken down wood (and other materials that would have entered the stumps) in fossil form, the bark long since broken away. the resulting forms looks more like clay sculptures than wood or rock.

next up was the hunterian museum, where we would meet with jim devine, head of multimedia at the museum and a friend of our friend (and talented artist) diana folsom. there were stuffed pigs with two heads and stuffed deer with two bodies and a single head. there were geological samples and explicit illustrations of the birth of gynecology. it was sort of a natural history museum greatest hits by way of ripley's believe it or not. (oddly enough, my hotel in copenhagen is next store to the danish ripley's. i haven't been in.) though there was something resonant here as well -- it was interesting to think of the oddities in terms of chance and anomaly -- they have that in common with the OLTW.

so the day was lousy with interesting things. i was pretty sure i was reaching my saturation point, however, when i looked out at a panoramic view of glasgow trying to reconcile some missing landmarks in the landscape -- until i realized i was, ahem, looking for landmarks in edinburgh. (the following week i would awake with a start on a plane to copenhagen, certain for a moment that i was in the back of a car in france.)

but back to edinburgh it was. on the 7th we visited the large and pristine botanical garden, where i was happily surprised to see they had a william eggelston exhibition up. the following day was a hike up arthur's seat, a little highland landscape located within the bounds of the city. disinterested in a long walk around it's base to the gently sloping incline, rachel and i decided on a more adventurous route. after passing through a depression filled with some pot-smoking men, we scaled a cliff-like side, the weight of my ever-heavy camera bag strategically leaning forward as not to send me tumbling back down. we made it up (and back) uninjured. i'll have to take in the northern highlands next time. now it was time for france.

a little time off couldn't have come at a better time. i won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that i swam in rivers, pools, and the ocean, hiked, biked, and ran, and ho mangiato molto bene. (yes, i know, that's italian.) as for other entertainments, leave it to the french to come up with the world championships of espadrille-kicking. contestants run up to the starting line, an espadrille perched on their kicking foot, and let 'er rip. surprisingly you don't seem to get points for flair, it's all about distance. the current world champ is measuring in at 25 meters. not bad.

but not all amusements are such fun and games. i also attended my first ever bull fight in bayonne. it was a first for the matadors, too -- it was a novillada, the first time they would fight the bulls publicly in the ring, not to mention all the way through to the death blows.

this was a complex experience, from deciding to attend in the first place all the way through the post-fight discussions. i'm going to have to save this one for a separate posting -- it warrants exploring.

since i was a hop, skip and jump from northern spain it seemed downright silly not to take in the guggenheim bilbao. while all the controversy about gehry's involvement in the ratner development in brooklyn has put me off of him (not to the point that i'm wearing a "fuck frank gehry " tshirt, mind you), i have to admit that the guggenheim is worth its salt. (and if you know my feelings about salt you know that i wouldn't say that lightly.) my highest compliments go to how the space compliments the richard serra work. if fact i've never seen it done better. (sorry MoMA, dia, gagosian.) the monumental anselm keefer's also seemed right at home. not surprisingly i was particularly taken by keefer's works incorporating star maps and "the secret life of plants."

it's remarkable that some art and architecture managed to put an old ship building town on the world map.

the last stop (!) on this OLTW trip: siberian bacteria in copenhagen.


i arrived in scotland as the sun went down. it was after 10 pm and all the customs officials had already called it a night, so i headed right to the rental car desk. by this point driving on the left side of the road didn't require a second thought, though driving in the poorly-signed streets of edinburgh without a navigator to read my google directions did prove a bit tricky. i did manage to stay on track, however, after a quick check-in with the A to Z at a petrol station. the next morning i drove out of edinburgh towards perthshire. with something that i have to attribute to good travel karma, when i arrived in aberfeldy (the town where i was staying) i somehow managed to coast right up to the street i was looking for, just as i was going to have to consult a map or a local. after settling in i continued my drive to the even smaller village of fortingall. in a second stroke of luck, i had an entire precipitation-free afternoon to photograph. rain set in later that night and didn't stop until i was back in edinburgh.

the fortingall yew (yes: yews are conifers, ewes are female sheep), somewhere between 2000 and 5000 years old (probably closer to the former than the latter), lives within the confines of a churchyard, further confined by its own tourist-proof stone wall. the area is steeped in history, not to mention incredibly beautiful, so its popularity is hardly surprising. however, the increase in traffic lead to substantial souvenir-taking of the yew's bark, endangering the health of the tree. hence the wall.

while it seems to be undisputed that the fortingall yew is the oldest tree in europe, this was another case of shoot first, ask questions later -- i'll have to confirm the age and history of the tree with the appropriate experts after i return from this trip. after the lengths required to reach and research the baobabs and welwitchia, reaching the yew was much closer to a walk in the park.

03 August 2007



phase 1 of the trip was over. i was back in london, bleary-eyed, navigating heathrow to one tube line to another, out to my friend beverly's house (an old classmate from the SVA photo program and former co-worker at NBC) where i would remain rather firmly planted for the next couple of days. i had made grand plans to visit the tate and kew gardens (at the very least), but realized that recouping from the previous 3 weeks of activity was just about all i could hope for. that, and dealing with the reality that my trip was not yet half way over and i was running out of film.

one would think that a city like london would stock fuji 220 film (i shoot medium format on the mamiya 7 II, in case you were wondering.) i started calling camera stores around the city, figuring it wouldn't take more than a call or two to track some down. i called at least 10 stores. then i started calling dublin. then ediburgh. the film i needed was no where to be found within a 200 mile radius, though they would be happy to special order it for me in a week's time and at twice the price. i was about to start pulling my hair out, but instead put in an order to B&H back home in new york, and had it sent to county kerry, ireland, where i would be the following week. it made it there in time, and i smiled to see that it was shipped from the brooklyn navy yards, where i had been regularly riding my bike before leaving for this trip. now if only i can get a VAT refund...


after london i headed for dublin. it was my first time there, and i was lucky enough to have a friend (the lovely and talented bren mcelroy) to stay with, and some friends of friends to meet at project arts centre. (check out the PLAY SAFE show if your in the neighborhood.) and then i was off to county kerry.

the green of countryside and the sudden outbursts of rain were a welcome change after the weeks of african desert. the aforementioned rachel holstead (RH) and her family graciously hosted my visit there. stay tuned for photos from the dingle agricultural festival, one of the highlights of my visit. i was also quite taken by the "film club," which takes place every tuesday night in town. tea and coffee are served, and everyone in the theater seems to know everyone else. each week an arty or otherwise interesting film is introduced by (not to mention selected by) the theater's elderly owner. this particular week he said a few quiet words at the front of the theater in honor of ingmar bergman (who had just passed away) and then pulled out a copy of the new yorker to read a review of the film he would show the following week. as a finishing touch he held up a poster for the film's theatrical release (first upside down, then backwards) before the lights went down.

the week flew by as i got in a combination of much-needed sleep and hiking. i grew used to the fact that there was still some light remaining in the sky at 11pm. then it was back to dublin on august 2nd, which included a repeat visit to project, a first visit to the irish museum of modern art (IMMA), and a stop at cultivate, a sustainable living center with a fantastic selection of books. i wanted at least 4, but restrained myself in light of the fact that i was already traveling over the legal ryan air limit and had already sent two packages home to myself to lighten the load. speaking of flying, please let me know if you're interesting in helping to offset my carbon emissions for this project. i'm taking 14 separate flights on this trip alone -- counterintuitive for environmentally sensitive work to say the least.

off to scotland for a visit to the fortingall yew, the oldest tree in europe.