Botanica

Lunaria money pennies, paper and vellum

Picturing Botany in Provence

The process that guides the creation of these photographs carries a great deal of meaning. Here, a scanner is used to produce luminous results; this modern apparatus is one ofmany to replace the traditional, analog camera close to becoming an obsolete technology. Thanks to the scanner, the resultingprints are mysterious—light appears to suffuse from the objects and the prints are translucent, ethereal and diaphanous. Commonplace objects are re-enchanted and made mysterious—they appear ghostly, de-materialized, auratic. The great German early twentieth-century writer Walter Benjamin states in a famous text that the aura that emanates from the work of art is nonexistent in photography. The photographs of Deborah MacNeill are a concerted effort to invest the photograph with aura. The depicted objects have another connotation: they invoke botanical specimen and archaic scientific tools and approaches dating back to the seventeenth-century. The earliest cameras were used in archaic botanical explorations. Also, at that time, botanists such as Marseus Van Schrieck promoted a downward gaze to consider specimen in forest environments. The photographs of Deborah MacNeill pay homage to this approach by flattening the specimen and by rejecting perspectival space while promoting systematic observation. If space exists in these photographs it is inner space. The tradition of still life painting is also invoked here. The ephemerality and fragility of Deborah MacNeill’s arrangements of objects echo the transience of Life (Vanitas) promoted by Dutch seventeenth-century still life painting.

Jean François Renaud.