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Celestial Photos of Plankton Connect Our Origins with Outer Space

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Julia Bennett (BFA 2015) is a photographer from Pennsylvania and a senior at the University of South Carolina. Specializing in both fine-art photography and marine science, she is currently exploring paths that can bridge the two fields. In December, Julia received the Magellan Scholar Grant to complete her recent series Into The Umbra, using microscopic photography to address the historic and profound relationship between humans and the ocean.

Bennett’s fantastical, complex imagery examines oceanic plankton within an abstract visual framework, removing their scientific context to urge us to consider our origins, in her words, from the “volatile, primordial chemical soup of the early seas from which life on Earth first emerged.” At once beautiful, vaguely frightening, and overwhelmingly celestial, Bennett’s photos paint abstracted dreamscapes that give seawater an entirely new dimension. By drawing parallels between the genesis of life and the vastness of outer space, the in-microscope captures invite us to consider our current position between these two existential extremes, and ponder how both scientific and artistic processes alike allow us to take part in shaping the world we also seek to observe.

“Over time, visual representations of scientific discoveries in the marine environment have allowed accessibility to complex processes and structures,” writes Bennett. “They have informed the scientific landscape by creating space to contemplate new and ever-changing interpretations regarding the nature of life. It is my goal to initiate a conversation about the extent of our knowledge of oceanic processes in a time when human interactions with the marine environment are particularly fragile.”

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All images © Julia Bennett

This post was contributed by photographer Acacia Johnson and her student photo blog, Onward Forward.

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