Throughout the 1980s, I worked as a Native Plant Specialist (cactus cop) for the Arizona Department Of Agriculture. I enforced the Endangered Species Act for threatened, rare and endangered plants in Arizona. This resulted in my appreciation for the aesthetic diversity of cactus and succulents.In 2001 I photographed a saguaro cactus at night from an overhead perspective. After numerous failed attempts, I was able to align the spines of the plant in such a way that it’s symmetry was revealed. The resulting pattern resembles a snowflake.
Recently I began thinking about other structural similarities found in nature. For example, the comparative pattern of a spiral galaxy and a spiral tubercle and spine pattern of a cactus. This interest inspired me to return to photographing cactus with an intent of isolating the plant in black background for the purpose of highlighting it’s bio-symmetry. I want to make a photo that illustrates a close-up intimacy with the plant. The paradox in this is that the cactus, by its own spiny nature, defies intimacy.
As I processed the images in Photoshop, I discovered that the shadows cast from the textural patterns were of special interest. My curiosity got the best of me and I had to research why the plant produced these shapes.
To my delight and surprise, I learned that the shape of the cactus or succulent for all intents and purposes is simply complex and beautiful water container. The patterns have evolved to allow the plant to regulate its temperature.
While editing photos, I continually encountered imperfections. These anomalies could dominate the image based on their ability to disrupt the patterned balance of the image. As a solution I would attempt to repair these portions of the pattern by cutting and pasting selections from other areas of the image. This proved to be a sporadically effective solution. One day in a fit of frustration while attempting to repair particularly stubborn area of a photo, I resorted to a radical solution. I cut the subject in half, then I discarded the bad half and copied and pasted the good half mirroring the other side. The result was much more natural looking than I anticipated. I began to wonder about the perception of symmetry, in particular something I read that indicated humans prefer slight asymmetry in faces. To study this, I started to pay attention to the reactions of images I received from the samples I posted on
social media. So far my findings indicate that people prefer the (Spherical Symmetry) reconstructed images over the natural images. Now as I make editing choices, I keep in mind these three basic forms of symmetry.....
● Radial symmetry: The organism looks like a pie. ... Rotational symmetry, also known as radial symmetry in biology, is the property a shape has when it looks the same after some rotation by a partial turn. An object's degree of rotational symmetry is the number of distinct orientations in which it looks the same.
● Bilateral symmetry: There is an axis; on both sides of the axis the organism looks roughly the same.
● Spherical symmetry: If the organism is cut through its center, the resulting parts look the same.
Another major consideration when editing cactus is emphasizing patterns keeping in mind the Golden Ratio.This is a common mathematical ratio found in nature that can be used to create
pleasing, natural looking compositions in design work. We call it the Golden Ratio. Biologists, artists, musicians, historians, architects, psychologists, and even mystics have pondered and debated the basis of its ubiquity and appeal. In fact, it is probably fair to say that the Golden Ratio has inspired thinkers of all disciplines like no other number in the history of mathematics.
Although I don’t understand the math, I can appreciate the aesthetic choices I’m obliged to make, when overlaying a Golden Ratio to my process.
Another less mathematical and more esoteric view of this way of looking at these plants is Sacred Geometry. Sacred geometry involves
sacred universal patterns used in the design of everything in our reality, most often seen in sacred architecture and sacred art.
With these concepts in mind I continue to experiment with the geometry of these plants. As I developed my methods of exaggerating the symmetry I realized that they were essentially
“ Digital hybrids” of the original natural composition.
The cactus in particular, seem intrinsically suited to bridge natural selection and modern design. Cacti are so remarkable in their symmetry that it is difficult to believe they are living things. I’m endlessly fascinated by these expressions of nature.