by Marita van Rooyen
Since its beginnings, photography has played a crucial part in how we see and understand the world. Building on scientific experiments that dated back to the early 1800s when William Henry Fox Talbot discovered how light could transfer the shape of things onto paper, it became a tool to see beyond what people at that stage had been able to perceive. Photos became valued as true records of reality, easily accessible visual tools that could be used to spread scientific knowledge throughout society.
As the years went on, the photographic experiment expanded beyond the portrayal of nature and science. Photographers have increasingly found new ways to use their art in representing the social ills and power struggles of our times. The contemporary documentary photographer has become more creative in terms of depicting reality, using the medium to unravel the deeper meanings and metaphors of cultural being and giving the image a more personal edge. Today, early processes such as the cyanotype (first developed in 1842 and originally used to document plant life and reproduce diagrams) are being re-imagined as a more poetic representation of reality and are making a slow comeback in the photographic arena, often in combination with modern techniques.
Returning to traditional approaches with a deeper connection to science takes us back to our own beginnings and makes us aware of the world in a state of radical interchange. By creating visual documents that combine old techniques with present realities, an alternative tool is revealed can be used to reconnect with our roots by putting the emphasis on finding the bond to a deeper consciousness, where nature and science play a central role in every day existence.
Practicing What I Preach: Without the Root, the Branch Is Nothing – A Personal Project
Before large pharmaceuticals played God with our health, people used what was naturally available to cure their ailments. Natural remedies of bark, roots, leaves, flowers and fruits were all part of everyday life. Elders were the most respected knowledge-bearers, passing vital information from generation to generation.
In many societies the use of herbal medicine still prevails, especially in non-industrialised areas and those yet to be occupied by the drug industry. As long as there is soil to shoot roots, the plants of our ancestors will keep on doing what they always did.
Without the Root, the Branch Is Nothing celebrates some of these natural healing plants – traditionally used as medicine, food, or both – from the Finnskogen forest of Norway. It is a reminder of the importance of respecting and protecting those spots of earth that are still unconquered.
Marita van Rooyen is a photographic experimentalist, writer and critic with an MA in Documentary Photography. She is based in Windhoek, Namibia. For more of her work, see www.maritavanrooyen.com