There's photography-and there's photography taken to the next level.

Or, in the case of Botanica, a striking new line of architectural glass produced by Skyline Design of Chicago, Illinois, photography has been taken to several levels

The basic concept of Botanica sounds simple: take outstanding examples of nature photography, Photoshop numerous creative interpretations of those images, and etch the results on glass. But it's in the execution of that concept that one sees the creation of a new art form.

Over the past couple of years Skyline Design has contracted with exemplars of today's nature photography-Henry Domke, Steven Meyers, and Zeva Oelbaum-to reproduce specific images from their respective bodies of work. They share the description “nature photographer” in name only; their techniques are disparate:

  • Henry Domke is noted for his sensitive recording of nature “in the raw”-flora, fauna, forests, fields, rivers, and beaches, across the country and within his own 600-acre “backyard” near St. Louis, Missouri (figure 1).

  • Steven Meyers, a radiology technologist for some 30 years, has, for the past 10 years, placed natural subjects-flowers and leaves of every description-on mammography film, exposing them to low-dose x-ray radiation and, in the end, producing intriguing black-and-white imagery that can be reproduced in either positives or negative format (figure 2).

  • Zeva Oelbaum employs a historic photographic technique developed in 1842 by British astronomer Sir John Herschel (he also coined the word “negative” and developed the formula for photographic fixer). Herschel's idea was to create a mechanical process whereby he could reproduce his astronomical maps and charts with a flawless precision not possible by hand. Oelbaum has adapted his technique to create images of plants and other natural materials. She places her specimens (in some cases they are extremely delicate) on paper she has coated with a solution of iron salts. She then places glass on top of the plant specimen to hold it in place. When this “sandwich” is exposed to the sun and the paper is subsequently rinsed in plain water, an image of the specimen appears on the paper in blue and white, reminiscent of a water color. These beautifully evocative images are called cyanotypes (figure 3).

Skyline's Creative Director Deborah Newmark and Director of Creative Sales Development Ellen Hanson developed a collaborative arrangement with the three photographers after a charrette they conducted with local designers revealed a desire for an architectural glass “kit of parts.” Explains Newmark, “What came out of the charrette was a wish list from the designers-principally this kit of parts that would allow them to create something unique for their projects which could then be carried through in various ways throughout the hospital.”

The Botanica “kit of parts” begins with nine basic photographs-three each from each of the photographers. What happens next is a Photoshop-based reinterpretation of the photographs, resulting in an array of varying patterns, colors, transparencies, and scale. These are translated to etch-able patterns by Advanced Screening Technology (AST), back-painted using Vitracolor and/or “eco-etch”, (a nonacidic, recyclable etching technique), using art glass of virtually every size and description-tempered, laminated, clear plate, and low-iron. One key technique is etching on both sides of the glass, allowing important variations in image depth, complexity, and translucency.

Thus, a hospital might start with a literal interpretation of flowers on glass for branding in the lobby, and then move on to various levels of abstraction, depending on the “feel” desired for a particular hospital area (figure 4), whether it be a waiting room, a lobby desk, cafeteria, diagnostic or treatment area, or patient room. Large walls and even exteriors are fair game for this process, too, because it is readily scalable to virtually any size.

“It's amazing to me to see an image of mine the size of a building,” says Zeva Oelbaum. “It's been thrilling for me to see how they take my creativity to the next level” (figure 5).

Her fellow collaborators, Domke and Meyers, agree. “They've changed my work radically,” says Domke, “and distilled the essence of a photographed flower or other natural image into patterns that can be repeated in an endless variety of ways-a delightful surprise for me” (figure 6). Meyers adds, “X-ray art is already see-through, and I think that was the light bulb for them. Because of the nature of x-ray film the images are not easy to reproduce or manipulate, so the result of what they've done with these images is very cool” (figure 7). HD

For further information on Skyline Design or its Botanica line, phone 888.278.4660, e-mail Ellen.h@skydesign.com, or visit http://www.skydesign.com/botanica.

Healthcare Design 2009 June;9(6):54-55