Letters & Opinion

Book review — Images Made with Plants: On the nature of impermanence, by Barbara Brown

Images Made with Plants: On the nature of impermanence, by Barbara Brown

Maureen Korp

Anthotype #17f. Turmeric curcumin. Turmeric root
Photo provided by the artist

Barbara Brown is an artist whose work with labyrinths is well-known in Ottawa. For many years people have gathered at Christ Church Cathedral to walk a labyrinth she designed. The artist built a larger one at the Experimental Farm in 2014, centered on the big oak tree. A good many Carleton University students found their way to its centre. What better way to calm oneself before writing an exam?

In 2021, the artist’s outdoor installation of four large panels at the School of Photographic Arts caught the eye of many. “Earth Bound a study of photosynthesis” portrayed plant beds as human silhouettes, vegetation returning to the earth. Could that be?

Barbara Brown is an artist whose earth-centered art has long been one of a quiet awareness of change. Her latest work, entitled Images Made with Plants, is an “artist’s book.” It is not a book about art, but is itself a unique artistic medium.

Anthotype #15c. Basella rubra. Malabar Spinach leaf
Photo provided by the artist

She has subtitled this work, On the Nature of Impermanence. Read the book in daylight; natural light is a variable. Turn the pages slowly. See what she means. The colours of each page change as the eye becomes more sensitive to ambient light. The text is lightly printed. In a few moments, the eye sees better and the text becomes easier to read.

The book opens with a double-page spread of 24 small black-and-white drawings of plants — leaves, stems, flowers. They appear again as place markers.

Turn the page. The first print is a soft wash of light rose, lavender, of lost thoughts. It is a Bougainvillea, its leaves larger, smaller. Turn to the next page. Another full page, but darker. Silhouettes of Saragundi leaves fade into twilight.

How do the plants grow and die? What do we see of this?

In 2020, Barbara Brown travelled to Costa Rica for a month-long artist’s residency, courtesy of the Mauser Foundation. Her studio location enabled her to walk out early every morning, foraging plants. Her book brings us into that quietude, gently. She was gathering materials for her work — anthotype photography, an old method of making imagery without a camera lens, of seeing what plants and sunlight make as one. (See www.alternativephotography.com/anthotypes-anthotype-process.)

In the book’s design, Barbara Brown brings us into her thoughts as she learned to see even more. The work is divided into three parts — Morning, Daytime, and Dark. In its text, the artist does her best to describe how she learned to make the images we see on these pages. The reason for holding the book in your hands and turning its pages is not to learn the how, but to see the why. Photography, literally, means “drawing with light.”

Anthotype #5 Canna indica. Canna Lilly flower
Photo provided by the artist


Images Made with Plants: On the nature of impermanence by Barbara Brown. Signed, limited first edition, $50.
Available at Studio Sixty Six Art Gallery, 858 Bank St., Suite 101, in the Glebe.