Monday, March 24, 2014

Reflecting on the time-based Plumbago

This mini-project consisted of taking a photograph of one flower-head every afternoon from about the same place until it finished flowering. Flowering lasted for twelve days and I photographed it every day except Day 11. If the light wasn’t good from one angle I would move slightly to get a better view. The branch moved around a bit too. On one occasion a gust of wind blew it up against another branch where it stuck because of the stickiness of the sepals. Later it freed itself. Also it grew longer and sank down nearer to the ground over the twelve days of observation.

Time-based Plumbago Days 1-12, click to enlarge
I was curious what the daily photograph would elicit, if anything. One obvious conclusion is that it’s a form of observation with the main value being that the photographs form a record. Just the existence of a record has value because usually there is no record.

I observed something I had not noticed before, which is that the flowers come out in tiers starting at the base, approximately one tier (or turn of the spiral) per day. On this flower-head some of the earlier flowers died off before those at the tip came out. Some of them were knocked off by rain. On sunny days the small butterflies noted a few months ago were out in force.

I thought about how plants operate on a different time-scale to us, how they work over an extended time period of days, months and years, which makes some changes almost imperceptible without a written or visual record.  I thought of Stone Age people in Ireland five thousand years ago who worked out the movements of the sun throughout the year and recorded their observations and predictions in various structures and rock drawings, an incredible feat considering they had no sophisticated instruments. To a Stone Age astronomer, the fact that certain flowers come out at the rate of one tier a day could be crucial information. All sorts of seemingly minor changes in the environment could contribute to the ability to arrive at correct conclusions which would then enable them to predict seasons and prepare for them. To observe the changes in the angle of the rising sun over the course of many years, to draw the correct inferences – it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Back to the Plumbago … the buds opened, the flowers came out and lasted for a few days before withering. That brings to mind the cycle of life and the flow of life. Life flows … as long as there’s flow, there’s life. When the flow stops the organism dies. Everything must keep moving. Can one say that life equals flow?

Geranium opening by Andrew Dunn, from Wikipedia

Finally, time lapse photography is a wonderful tool for observing plants. As the Wikipedia article says, “The effect of photographing a subject that changes imperceptibly slowly, creates a smooth impression of motion.” Above, a time-lapse photograph of a geranium courtesy Andrew Dunn. It shows the flower opening over two hours compressed into a few seconds.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed following your experiment. Are you going to have a go at a time lapse video as well?

Mary Adam said...

Hi Catherine, thanks for the kind words. I don't have the equipment to get into time-lapse photography but could see the potential to use it creatively.