Experimental Photography: Phytograms

My final project in my Experimental Darkroom class this semester was on phytograms. The project consisted of creating the phytograms themselves and then creating a video from those images where the video becomes an art piece.

Phytograms are a cameraless photography process that use Black and White film and plants to create images. The process relies on a chemical reaction between the plants and photographic emulsion.

It’s taken me awhile to get this post put together, so this is technically a late blog post.

Exposing the Film

The first part of the phytogram process is, of course, exposing the film. To do this, I needed to create a developer to soak the plants in. This developer consisted of a mixture of water, washing soda, and vitamin C (I used Emergen-C). The plant material needs to at least be dipped in the developer solution. It’s better to soak the plants because it will make it more pliable and manipulative. This allowed me to get the plants into the positions I wanted.

I used a couple of old boxes to create a board to attach the film to while I exposed it. This helped keep the film in one spot with minimal movement. After taping the film strip down onto the cardboard, I then took my plant material (I used parsley in this project) from the developer solution and began arranging the pieces on the film. I was deliberate in creating different shapes with the parsley to create visual interest in the phytograms. After arranging the parsley, I left the film out on my balcony for 3 or 4 hours to let the sun expose it.

Fixing the exposed film

If you’ve ever used film for photography, you probably have some awareness of the development process. A part of the process is fixing the film in a solution so that the film doesn’t get more exposed before getting the photos printed on photo paper. Now, I don’t actually know how the whole darkroom process for film photography works because of the nature of my photography class. However, I did learn a very inexpensive way to fix the film to complete the phytogram process.

To make sure the film was fixed and safe to have in light, I needed to make a salt and water solution for the film to soak in. This solution needed to be super salty for it to work. It also works better with iodized salt, according to my professor, because of the chemical reaction of the fixing process. After making this solution, I left the film in the salt water for 24+ hours. This process would take less time with the chemicals used in the darkroom, but I haven’t learned about that yet and using salt water is much less expensive.

Final art piece

After I had my phytograms ready and done, I was able to move on to the final part of this project. Now, phytograms can definitely be printed in a darkroom like most film photography. I will likely be able to do this in the future, but that wasn’t a part of this project since this class was adjusted because of COVID.

The last part of the project was to create a 30 second – 1 minute video using the phytograms I created. I cut the film into smaller sections and scanned the film onto my laptop. I then took the scanned images and brought them into Photoshop. I used Photoshop to crop out the individual frames from the film strip. This was a really tedious process since I had to make each frame as uniform in shape as possible.

After having all of my potential frames cropped and saved, I imported them all into Premiere Pro. I organized all my images in the Premiere Pro project in the order I wanted. This took awhile because I wanted to make sure it visually flowed. I used an ambient sound file from Epidemic Sound for the background music. The music helped me with organizing the images a bit because of how the music sounds in relation to the images.

I first created a 30 second version of the video, which is on my YouTube channel, but I also made a 1 minute version afterwards.

Below is the final 1 minute video:


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