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Splendor on the Grass

Michelle Hoffman

Nature is the subject of many an artist's canvas, but rarely has it served as the canvas itself. So when British artists Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey submitted their photograph of a mother and child to the cosmetic company L'Oréal's annual "Art and Science of Color" contest, the judges took notice. Ackroyd and Harvey claimed the grand prize with a photograph developed on a grass lawn.

Click to Enlarge Image

Grass, the artists reasoned, is like photographic paper in that it becomes pigmented upon exposure to light: The more intense the light exposure, the more intensely pigmented the grass becomes. Indeed, when the artists projected a photographic negative bearing an image of a mother and child onto a growing lawn, a positive image developed on the lawn in various shades of green and yellow.

Grass and photographic paper share one other feature: Images developed on them will disappear if they are not properly fixed. On paper, fixing is accomplished with chemicals, but how can an image be retained on a lawn? To solve this problem, the artists collaborated with genetic engineers from the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research in Aberystwyth, Wales. The geneticists had developed a variety of grass called "staygreen," which, as the name implies, retains its green color longer than normal grass. The grass "canvas," which measures 182 centimeters by 122 centimeters, was dried and has remained green since the photograph was made in 1998. Ackroyd and Harvey's "Mother and Child" will be on view along with other photosynthetic images at a show opening in May at the 291 Gallery in London.—Michelle Hoffman

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