It is easy to marvel at the persistence and resourcefulness of plants. They grow between cracks in concrete, in rocks on highway medians, in arid deserts and on the ocean floor. They find a way to thrive despite the harsh conditions of our planet and our interference with the environment. Jimmy Fike, photographer and artist, has photographed many of these plants, amassing an impressive archive of 140 edible plants from across 15 states. He sees his archive as a reliable guide for people to identify edible plants around them and to encourage them to rethink their spiritual relationship with the plant kingdom.
Fike collects his plants by traveling to artist residencies, driving so he can stop along the way to collect more specimens. He is not a trained botanist so he takes his time consulting field guides to identify which plants are edible, and learning a location’s history and ecosystem. “This series came about 10 years into my work as a photographic artist,” Fike said. “I was looking for a new way to approach landscape — one that didn’t seem derivative and a continuation of either the romantic or new topographic traditions. I knew I wanted to make work that emphasized ecology, that had the ability to connect viewers to their local ecosystems in meaningful ways and utilized photography in a more engaged way.”
Fike exposes all parts of the plant, highlighting the edible parts in color. Once a plant is chosen, he quickly and carefully digs it up, cleans it, poetically arranges it and pins it to his white portable backdrop and photographs it before it wilts. He photographs the flowers, fruits, leaves and roots from several of each kind of plant and meticulously combines them digitally in Photoshop. Fike removes shadows, dust specks and pins until the background is black. Using the black background is intentionally reminiscent of some of the first photographs made of plants on sensitized paper by Henry Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins.
Fike often gets questions about his process — people often wonder if the images are photographs, paintings, collages or holograms. Some of his viewers don’t usually engage with contemporary art but they like his work and have a meaningful experience with it.
Fike hopes to grow his catalogue of edibles and mount exhibits anywhere in the continental United States. “I hope the photographic survey can serve as a historical archive of botanical life during eras of extreme change, and provide viewers all over the country an opportunity to feel the type of bond with their landscapes that will encourage health, engender wonder, help identify free food, and most importantly, inspire greater concern for environmental issues,” he said.
Last year, Fike’s series was featured in “In The Garden,” a traveling exhibition organized by the George Eastman Museum, and published in the related book, “The Photographer in the Garden.” He has an upcoming exhibit at Brown University’s Granoff Center. Fike hopes to publish a book and explore ways of using his images in publicly, socially engaged art projects.
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