Artist Needs No Camera to Make Flower Images Beautiful

By Nick Venable | Published

Let’s get something straight right off the bat: electro-photography, or Kirlian photography, is strictly located within the realm of science. The technique was discovered in 1939 by Semyon Kirlian, a Russian inventor, who realized if he connected a high-voltage source to a photographic plate, any object placed on top would have its imaged burned into the plate. It wasn’t until many years later, even after the results became public, that many people began to take notice, and it was all because of a book titled Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. The use of the word “psychic,” along with the images’ strange glow, led to over 30 years of psuedo-scientific hogwash obsessed with auras and life forces. The natural world will always be more interesting than anything fantastical.

Take the work of San Francisco artist Robert Buelteman, who for the last decade or so has been working with plants and electro-photography to create some incredible, visually arresting images. And all without a hint of film or lens.

The process itself, too tedious and error-prone for many artists, involves using a scalpel to whittle his subjects down until they are super-thin and nearly see-through. After placing the plant on color transparency film, he covers it with a diffusion screen positioned on sheet metal pressed between plexiglass, floating in liquid silicone. Using jumper cables, he zaps electricity into it, which forces the electrons to jump from the sheet metal through the silicone and the flower. He then hand-paints the result with white light shining through an optical fiber no wider than a human hair. No guaranteed success, it’s a process that could take 150 attempts per image to achieve perfection. Hard work, but I think you’ll agree the results are timeless.