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Since 2008, Dornith Doherty has worked in collaboration with renowned biologists at the most comprehensive international seed banks in the world: the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service’s National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Colorado, USA; the Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the UK.; and PlantBank, Threatened Flora Centre, and Kings Park Botanic Gardens in Australia. Utilizing the archives’ on-site X-ray equipment that is routinely used for viability assessments of accessioned seeds, Doherty documents and subsequently collages the seeds and tissue samples stored in these crucial collections. The amazing visual power of magnified X-ray images, which springs from the technology’s ability to record what is invisible to the human eye, illuminates her considerations not only of the complex philosophical, anthropological, and ecological issues surrounding the role of science and human agency in relation to gene banking, but also of the poetic questions about life and time on a macro and micro scale. Doherty is struck by the power of these tiny plantlets and seeds (many are the size of a grain of sand) to generate life and to endure the time span central to the process of seed banking, which seeks to make these sparks last for two hundred years or more. Use of the color delft/indigo blue evokes references not only to the process of cryogenic preservation, central to the methodology of saving seeds, but also to the intersection of East and West, trade, cultural exchange, and migration. This tension between stillness and change reflects her focus on the elusive goal of stopping time in relation to living materials, which at some moment, we may all want to do.

Dornith Doherty Archiving Eden

Spurred by the impending completion of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Archiving Eden explores the role of seed banks and their preservation efforts in the face of climate change, the extinction of natural species, and decreased agricultural diversity. Serving as a global botanical backup system, these privately and publicly funded institutions assure the opportunity for the reintroduction of species should a catastrophic event or civil strife affect a key ecosystem somewhere in the world.

Dornith Doherty was born in Houston, Texas and received a B.A. cum laude from Rice University and an MFA in Photography from Yale University. She is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of North Texas, where she has been on the faculty since 1996. In 2012 she was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. Doherty’s work has been featured in exhibitions widely in the USA and abroad at institutions including: FotoFest International, USA.; The Bluecoat, UK.; Centro de Fotografía, Spain; Galerie Lužánky, Czech Republic; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, USA.; Museum Belvédère, the Netherlands; and Museum of Photography, Rafaela, Argentina. Her work is held in numerous permanent collections across the world. Elizabeth Avedon, author of the essay in this book, is an independent curator and writer, profiling notable leaders in the world of photography. She is the former director of photo-eye Gallery, Santa Fe, and was creative director of the Gere Foundation. Ms. Avedon has received recognition for her many exhibition and publishing projects, including the book and exhibition Richard Avedon: In the American West for the Amon Carter Museum, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, ISBN 978-90-5330-884-4 and the Art Institute of Chicago. Elizabeth Avedon also made exhibition designs for the Estate of Diane Arbus, the Menil Collection, Houston and the Leica Gallery, NY.   www.schiltpublishing.com

9 789053 308844 >

Dornith Doherty Archiving Eden


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Tr u s t e d W i t n e s s b y E l i z a b e t h A v e d o n


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Tr u s t e d W i t n e s s b y E l i z a b e t h A v e d o n


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I If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch,

over 5,000 images of algae—Doherty, no less a

forty-seven pounds of lunar material to bring

you must first invent the universe. —

pioneer than her photographic predecessors, has

back to earth, she returned with rare artifacts that

Carl Sagan, American astronomer

one foot stepping out over the precipice toward a

she transforms into a visual language we can

collective future in her series Archiving Eden.

comprehend, allowing us to traverse a new world with each viewing.

In the spring of 2009, I was standing in line at a photography event in Santa Fe, New Mexico,

Doherty has been working over eight years on

when I struck up a conversation with the woman

Archiving Eden, a photographic project using

The significance of Doherty’s explorations is

in front of me. It turned out not only was she

individual seeds as its primary subject. She

both timely and spiritual. We depend on plants

also from Texas, but we had attended the same

has traveled to over sixteen seed banks around

for variegated sustenance—for food, to create

high school. Since that first chance meeting with

the world, including the National Center for

oxygen, and to purify our air and water. The

Dornith Doherty, her visionary work has taken

Genetic Resources Preservation in Colorado, the

Svalbard Global Seed Vault is also known as the

me on a transpersonal journey spanning four

Millennium Seed Bank in England, and in 2010,

Doomsday Vault, warehousing over 1.5 billion

continents. I have come to know rich elements

Doherty traveled to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

seeds, back-up copies of all the world’s crops. It

of the past and present, operating irrevocably in

located some 600 miles from the North Pole.

is a steely compound, tunneled five hundred feet

partnership, leading me straight into a newfound

Svalbard was a kind of touchstone for Doherty, her

into the Norwegian Arctic—built to last 10,000

perspective of humanity’s future.

work there literally the seed to what would follow.

years. Svalbard serves as a modern-day ark for our shared agricultural heritage, seeds safely

As an expeditionary photographer, Doherty is

The entrance to Svalbard is one of the coldest

and meticulously stored to save the precious

equipped with an eye to document raw, unknown

and harshest areas on earth. When I picture

resources of life itself.

territory. Her work leads us to remote places

Doherty there, I see her setting up a large-format

most will never experience, capturing things

field camera and heavy tripod, bundled up

we would likely never see. On her return, she

against the sub-zero snow, ice, and high winds

reshapes what was discovered into poetic

on the Arctic tundra. I would later learn she kept

images that illuminate questions about life

a watchful eye out for polar bears while shooting.

and time. Following the trail blazed by old-

The landscape within her photographs there is

world photographers of the past, beginning with

extraterrestrial, akin to the spare expanse found

William Fox Talbot’s 1839 botanical specimens,

on the moon. In step with those early astronauts

and later, Anna Atkins’s Victorian photographs of

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who collected


78

79

I If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch,

over 5,000 images of algae—Doherty, no less a

forty-seven pounds of lunar material to bring

you must first invent the universe. —

pioneer than her photographic predecessors, has

back to earth, she returned with rare artifacts that

Carl Sagan, American astronomer

one foot stepping out over the precipice toward a

she transforms into a visual language we can

collective future in her series Archiving Eden.

comprehend, allowing us to traverse a new world with each viewing.

In the spring of 2009, I was standing in line at a photography event in Santa Fe, New Mexico,

Doherty has been working over eight years on

when I struck up a conversation with the woman

Archiving Eden, a photographic project using

The significance of Doherty’s explorations is

in front of me. It turned out not only was she

individual seeds as its primary subject. She

both timely and spiritual. We depend on plants

also from Texas, but we had attended the same

has traveled to over sixteen seed banks around

for variegated sustenance—for food, to create

high school. Since that first chance meeting with

the world, including the National Center for

oxygen, and to purify our air and water. The

Dornith Doherty, her visionary work has taken

Genetic Resources Preservation in Colorado, the

Svalbard Global Seed Vault is also known as the

me on a transpersonal journey spanning four

Millennium Seed Bank in England, and in 2010,

Doomsday Vault, warehousing over 1.5 billion

continents. I have come to know rich elements

Doherty traveled to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

seeds, back-up copies of all the world’s crops. It

of the past and present, operating irrevocably in

located some 600 miles from the North Pole.

is a steely compound, tunneled five hundred feet

partnership, leading me straight into a newfound

Svalbard was a kind of touchstone for Doherty, her

into the Norwegian Arctic—built to last 10,000

perspective of humanity’s future.

work there literally the seed to what would follow.

years. Svalbard serves as a modern-day ark for our shared agricultural heritage, seeds safely

As an expeditionary photographer, Doherty is

The entrance to Svalbard is one of the coldest

and meticulously stored to save the precious

equipped with an eye to document raw, unknown

and harshest areas on earth. When I picture

resources of life itself.

territory. Her work leads us to remote places

Doherty there, I see her setting up a large-format

most will never experience, capturing things

field camera and heavy tripod, bundled up

we would likely never see. On her return, she

against the sub-zero snow, ice, and high winds

reshapes what was discovered into poetic

on the Arctic tundra. I would later learn she kept

images that illuminate questions about life

a watchful eye out for polar bears while shooting.

and time. Following the trail blazed by old-

The landscape within her photographs there is

world photographers of the past, beginning with

extraterrestrial, akin to the spare expanse found

William Fox Talbot’s 1839 botanical specimens,

on the moon. In step with those early astronauts

and later, Anna Atkins’s Victorian photographs of

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who collected


84

X-ray Collages Part I

85 Corn Diversity, 2010

87 Corn, 2009

88-89 Corn Seedlings, 2009

90 Snack II (SunChips), 2014

91 Snack I (Nacho Cheese-Flavored Doritos), 2014

93 Husk Corn (Landrace), 2009

94 Columbian Exchange I, 2014

95 Columbian Exchange III, 2014

85


84

X-ray Collages Part I

85 Corn Diversity, 2010

87 Corn, 2009

88-89 Corn Seedlings, 2009

90 Snack II (SunChips), 2014

91 Snack I (Nacho Cheese-Flavored Doritos), 2014

93 Husk Corn (Landrace), 2009

94 Columbian Exchange I, 2014

95 Columbian Exchange III, 2014

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Archiving Eden by Dornith Doherty  

Preview 'Archiving Eden' by Dornith Doherty, published by Schilt Publishing in May 2016. The book is available from www.schiltpublishing.com...

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