Q&A: Rose-Lynn Fisher, Los Angeles

Rose-Lynn Fisher photography bee

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Rose-Lynn Fisher’s fine-art photography explores biological, cultural, and metaphorical thresholds, ranging from the microscopic realm of bees to the liminal spaces of Morocco to the out-cast couches of Hollywood. She has exhibited widely in galleries and museums across the U.S. and abroad, including a mid-career survey at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art, OK. Her new book, BEE, photographs of bees shot through a scanning electron microscope, is published by Princeton Architectural Press. In 2010 exhibitions of BEE images will be on view at Farmani Gallery NY and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, and presented at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, among other venues.

Rose-Lynn Fisher photography bee

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What motivated you to start photographing bees and how long have you been working on this project?
‘I am fascinated by bees, respect and admire them; all that they do perpetuates and adds to life’s bounty. In my mixed media artwork I’ve worked a lot with geometric pattern, primarily with hexagons, and explored sacred geometry. I used to incorporate beeswax and when the windows were open bees would come and visit, and land on the work. But this project really began the first time I saw the bee’s eye and was amazed to see that it echoed the structure of honeycomb. Whether this was a coincidence or a clue to a much deeper meaning inherent in this congruency of form inspired me deeply and made me want to explore further. It has been a gradual process – that first time was back in 1992. So this project has unfolded over years and years, with an evolving emphasis as I’ve come to understand more about bees, about their ongoing challenges and about pollination’.

Rose-Lynn Fisher photography bee

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You used a scanning electron microscope to capture these close ups of bees with magnifications ranging from 10x to 5000x. How did this process work and what were some of the major discoveries you made?
‘Prior to going into the SEM the bee (it’s not alive) gets gold-coated, something like gold-plating but with such a fine layer that it’s measured in atoms -100-200 atom layers of gold. This provides conductivity and enhances the quality of the image. The coated bee is mounted onto a microscope stage inside a vacuum chamber of the microscope, so it can be viewed in any orientation – tilted, rotated, and position on x, y, z planes. The magnification, contrast, brightness and focus, all go into composing/producing my image. A finely focused electron beam scans across the surface of the bee and through an interface with the computer, generates the image.

‘It’s all a discovery in there! Seeing pollen for the first time was remarkable, one tiny grain so intricately formed. But that is true of all the bee’s anatomy, or geography, as I experienced it. I was thrilled when I’d enter a “region” of something I’ve never seen before, like wing hooks, and to see how practical nature is, practical and sculptural. Or the tarsus, or ‘foot’ area, that looks almost dragon-like to me. It was like driving through an alien terrain. And the sense of scale really plays with my mind; now when I shoot pictures from an airplane window, I am struck by the similarity between what I see through a window from thousands of feet away, and through a microscope’.

Rose-Lynn Fisher photography bee

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Your Bee series is a departure from your travel and street photography. What was the overall goal of this series and what challenges did you have to overcome?
‘I wouldn’t really call it a departure as much as I’d call it a parallel path. My projects become long-term simply because they evolve over time. I think there’s a lot to be said for the process of getting acquainted with a subject. It’s like when you go somewhere new – what you first see makes an impression; then after awhile you might not even notice it anymore. But then you see other things, find the humor, the pathos, the power of repeated patterns – whether in form, time or culture. Maybe after a while of seeing something, a new point of view emerges, more risk is taken in framing it, which eventually results in a project that’s like having many generations of a family in the same house, each with a particular point of view based on their level of experience. I am also continually surprised by the editing process that shifts over time. Some projects are not meant to go on and on though- the initial spark would just get overworked instead of being allowed to smolder.

‘It’s also interesting to watch how one project has an influence on another. For example, the thrill of discovery has a liberating effect on my overall vision, stretching the boundaries of my perception. So composing an image of abandoned couches on the streets of Hollywood is somehow influenced by the excitement I felt looking at the wild looking glossa of a bee’s proboscis… The SEM has given me the opportunity to look at the actuality of a bee; here is one tiny element of our whole world, and it’s a whole world in itself! But then everything around us is so complex when you penetrate even just a little. For me this speaks to the continuum of life from the macro to the micro, from humor to tragedy, celebration to decimation- so many realities of life on earth happening at the same time.

‘The challenges of this project are in a way the same as all my others – to find and present what’s most visually and conceptually meaningful/compelling to me, and hope that it is received in kind. With this work I hope to foster deeper curiosity, greater appreciation, awe and marvel for the honeybee; after seeing what the bee looks like so close up, I think it’s impossible to think of it in the same way.

‘It’s been very gratifying to have a crossover of interest in the project from both fine-art and science. I feel deeply fortunate for the BEE exhibition at Farmani Gallery in NY, and working with the superb gallery director Elizabeth Barragan; and for my upcoming exhibit at Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica in November. And this fall, the bees will be exhibited at the Life Science Museum at BYU in Provo, UT’.

Rose-Lynn Fisher photography bee

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Princeton Architectural Press has recently released your book, BEE. How did that come about and can you talk a little about your editing process for the book?
‘I met my editor, Jennifer Thompson, at Review Santa Fe, a portfolio review produced by Center. This is an opportunity to meet and show work to people who are not usually accessible for this level of attention and discussion, a fertile ground for planting seeds. She encouraged me to submit a proposal and we went from there, one step slowly to the next.

The editing process was very organic. At PAP they work thoughtfully, comprehensively, and as a tight team; extremely intelligent and creative, and nice too. There was a lot of give and take in our discussions and so it felt right as we went along. I learned a lot through the collaborative process that goes into producing a book; it’s very different than working in isolation on one’s own, and there’s a lot of trust necessary on both ends. It’s been a wonderful experience with them, both in the making of BEE, and now in the activities that support its existence and distribution’.

Rose-Lynn Fisher photography bee

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How did this project change the way you previously thought about bees and what do you think about the increase of urban dwellers raising bees on rooftops?
‘I continue to learn more and more about honey bees, and meet people of shared passion for them. Now I want to learn beekeeping too. How excellent that New Yorkers can now keep bees in the city. There was just a BEE-day celebration at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, in honor of their centennial year. Thousands of people came and met beekeepers who brought their hives and bee products, as well as films and presentations. It’s wonderful that this is happening – and necessary’.

Rose-Lynn Fisher photography bee

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