EcoTypes

W1

Repopulation with green photosynthetic bacteria after exposure to light (1 week)

WH2

Original dark generated numbers/letters

W3

Repopulation with green photosynthetic bacteria after exposure to light (1 week)

WH6

Original dark generated numbers/letters

W2

WH4 Original dark generated numbers/letters

W4

Repopulation with green photosynthetic bacteria after exposure to light (1 week)

The mask, a simple equation for photosynthesis.

The mask, a simple equation for photosynthesis.

The Winogradsky column is a simple device for culturing environmental bacteria and is an elegant means of demonstrating their vast diversity and complex interactions. Invented in the 1880s by Sergei Winogradsky, the device comprises, a column of pond mud that has been fortified with a carbon source and a sulphur source. The column is exposed to sunlight for a period of months to years, during which aerobic/anaerobic, and sulphur gradients form. All of the bacteria in the mud column are present initially in low numbers and are thus not visible to the human eye. However, during the incubation, different types of microorganism will come to occupy distinct zones where the oxygen and sulphur gradients generate specific environmental conditions, and niches, that favour their particular growth requirements and specific activities. In these zones, particular bacteria proliferate massively to form visible and brightly coloured communities.

Winogradsky columns have been used by artists in the past, but to my knowledge only passively and without intervention. Here I intervened by differentially exposing a Winogradsky column to light. This influenced where the specific types of bacteria were able to grow, resulting an image being generated by and recorded in the vast bacterial community. 3 months exposure.

After the mask has been removed to reveal the image, and as the bacteria are exposed to uniform light once more, the figures change as they become repopulated by green photosynthetic and other bacteria. In a sense, I see this as a type of alternative photography where the emulsion is a massively complex microbial community that responds to light. The ecology is perpetual and continually changing in response to its environment so the image never becomes permanent or fixed, but even if it disappears completely its legacy is preserved in the changes and influences that it made to the ecology.

3 thoughts on “EcoTypes

  1. I was sent links to microbial art as something I might find interesting. I was very surprised to see your name coming up again and again. Three years of undergraduate microbiology practicals together at Leeds University and I had no idea you were this creative. Congratulations on your work and recent award.

    Bel Page

    • Thanks for getting in touch Bel and for the kind words. I remember being a bit of disaster in lab classes at Leeds! I teach microbiology at the University of Surrey and the art is a diversion that keeps me sane! What are you up to know? Best wishes, Simon

      • I’m still with the genetics PhD student I was going out with at Leeds (still not married!) and we have one daughter who is now at university. We moved to Australia in ’93 and live at the northern edge of Sydney, where suburbia backs onto the bush. I worked in microbiology for a few years, first in England and then in Sydney, and then went back to university and got a primary school teaching degree. I’m not in the classroom at the moment but coach children after school Mon – Thurs. I also teach dressmaking and pattern-drafting a couple of days a week.

        I remember you had a tendency to break things during practicals and you used that as an excuse for me to do anything too fiddly. However, your artwork needs a very delicate touch so I think it was a ruse to get me to do the work! However you were OK as a lab partner, being a pleasant sort of bloke (not like the prat I had to share a bench with for my 3rd year project). I hope you are sympathetic to any of your students who manage to stuff up practicals.

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