May 30, 2020
Algae Research Supply came across a very creative way to use algae - Chlorella Vulgaris, in particular. Apparently, you can use the algae to make photographs! The process was first investigated by French artist Lia Giraud about 10 years ago, who called the process “algaegraphy". Here in the states, University of Washington PhD student Russell Marx has also been experimenting with using algae for photography. Russell’s approach is getting a lot of attention as of late, with recent articles in Petapixel and DIY Photography.
According to the Petapixel article, Russell was looking for a way to combine art and science. In their photography ventures, Russell used Chlorella Vulgaris because it is a heavier strain of algae- it sunk to the bottom of the petri dish and wouldn’t float/ move after it was mixed with water. Then, a film negative would be projected onto the algae. Because algae is a photosynthesizer, the algae exposed to brighter light grew more, thus growing the image in the petri dish.
Above is the photo negative projected onto the algae.
“I’ve always liked biology, and inspired by microbial art, I looked for a way to merge photography and science,” Marx told Petapixel.
We caught up with Russell to find out more about this super creative way to use our favorite stuff - algae! Here’s some highlights from our interview:
We first asked Russell how they feel about all the attention they are getting for this cool new technique.
“It's a welcome surprise,” Marx said. “I wasn’t expecting to get any attention… it's just a thing I did because I wanted to.“
We then asked Russell about how they got interested in the project in the first place. According to Marx, their grandparents gifted them a photographic enlarger. Then, since Marx did not have a photo enlarger, they started to brainstorm ideas for how to use it. Marx’s first thought was using chlorophyll pigment, but switched to aglae later on.
Marx first attempted this project with Spirulina, but found that the growth of the helical structure of this algae was impeded when they tried to encase it in resin to keep it from moving. Marx switched to chlorella vulgaris, for it is a more dense strain of algae and would sit at the bottom of the dish.
Since we are all stuck inside currently, we asked Russell some of the things they’ve been doing while in quarantine. As a busy grad student, Marx has mainly been working on schoolwork. But, in their spare time, Russell has been working on side projects in linguistics, and of course doing some algae photo printing.
Lastly, we asked Russell what they would suggest people at home do to explore how science and art can come together.
“There’s a lot of science do to at home that people aren’t aware of,” Marx said. They recommended trying their algae printing process, it is very accessible and only needs a projector, a petri dish, and some algae. Furthermore, people of all ages can explore botany in their own neighborhood or backyard. Russell also mentioned that vegetables can be ground up into a paste-like ink that can be used for art projects. Anything is possible when you let your mind be creative!
We want to thank Russell for taking the time to talk with us. Read more about Russell here, or check out their new social media page! And stay tuned – Russell has agreed to make Algae Research Supply’s logo in algae and we’ll be posting it soon.