Sunday, November 11, 2012

Traces: Plankton on the Move

(link above is to low-res version - for High Definition click here)

In the spring of 2012, Elizabeth Harvey presented me with a flat gray video of moving plankton.
The challenge that I undertook was how to bring the movement of the plankton to a place where we could feel the magic of their existence. 

Through changing colors and adding tracks of their movement, I was able to bring a kind of spirituality to this most basic form of life.

Most plankton videos show them as frenetically moving about - but in this case because I added the traces of their movements they look like they are moving more slowly, as we can actually follow the trajectory of their movements.

Music by Jerry Fishenden, composed for this work, adds to the power of the plankton portrait. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Artistic Ceratium Lineatum

Working with samples of Certatium Lineatum provided by the Menden-Deuer lab at the University of Rhode Island, I digitally "captured" swimming specimens using a microscope and video camera in the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab at the Rhode Island School of Design. 

The backgrounds and color shifts serve to make the images more lively, and to give viewers the sense of the complex environment of the ocean waters that are home to these microscopic plankton.


Original Captures with Colors slightly enhanced

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Artistic Images: Favella - Heterosigma

The experience of transforming the image capture served as a kind of drawing exercise.

As I worked I became familiar with the forms of the Favella and Heterosigma akashiwo.  The next step was to integrate them into a series of creative compositions.

Favella with an imagined environment
© 2012 Cynthia Beth Rubin
Plankton Play with Painterly background
© 2012 Cynthia Beth Rubin
Favella enlarged with blue water
© 2012 Cynthia Beth Rubin

Friday, October 12, 2012

Enhancing the Microcapture, Keeping the Science

Digital enhancement
Cynthia Beth Rubin (RISD)
Original captured image
Elizabeth Harvey (GSO).

Elizabeth Harvey, as a doctoral student researcher in the Menden-Deuer lab at the University of Rhode Island, captured an image under the microscope that told a ground-breaking story of the movements of plant-like plankton as they escape potential predators. 

Oceanographers were enthralled by her image, but for the rest of us who had not yet developed a loving relationship with plankton, the image was less dramatic.

Enhance and refine the captured image so that it would be readable and appealing to a broader public.

The process began by generating multiple color variations of the image. Working closely with the Oceanographer, Professor Susanne Menden-Deuer, we identified image variations which brought out the best qualities.

Discoveries and Discussion:
Slides under the microscope are an artificial environment.

Halos around the individual plankton and bubbles in the background had gone unnoticed, as experienced oceanographers go right to the scientific characteristics of their subjects, looking past the accidental artifacts of slide preparation. These were removed.

We engaged in a lively philosophical discussion about how much images can be enhanced while still maintaining a true representation.

My perspective is informed by experience and many influences, including:
Roland Barthes   Camera Lucida
Susan Sontag   On Photography

What can Artists Contribute?
Artists understand color relationships.  We can bring out features in images with even the slightest changes in color.

Artists also understand texture as a visual element.  In this case, simply removing the artificial noise of the slide helped to bring out the features of the plankton.  In the natural world, this visual noise would not exist.

Why does this Problem exist?
Scientific capturing systems do not use automatic color fixes. No automatic filter knows what features the observing scientist wants to stand out, and what details are actually "noise."

Automatic fixes are part of everyday imaging devices. The camera in your pocket and the scanner on your desk adjust colors automatically. Advertisements for these products tell you how wonderful color adjustment can be. Look carefully at the settings for the devices and you will see that they all allow the user to override the automatic fixes.

Scientific Information on the Image
read this post

Artistic Images based on Elizabeth Harvey's Capture
read this post

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Collaborations with URI Scientists: Favella and Heterosigma akashiwo

Photo credit: Elizabeth Harvey (GSO). Digital enhancement by Cynthia Beth Rubin (RISD)

Micrograph of the ciliate predator Favella sp. (left) and its algal prey Heterosigma akashiwo. When sensing the presence of a feeding predator, the alga changed its swimming behavior and effectively fled from the predator. Although fleeing is common among animals, this  type of behavior had not been observed in plant like creatures.

Susanne Menden-Deuer, associate professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, and doctoral student Elizabeth Harvey made the unexpected observation while studying the interactions between phytoplankton and zooplankton..

Lead story on the NSF website October 11, 2012.

Full story on URI site

Published Researched Paper

Post on the collaborative process