Humans are hardwired to more readily connect to animals that look and act similar to us. For example, we are much more likely to empathize with dogs, chimps and dolphins then we are with worms and amoebas. Through scientific advances; however, we are increasingly learning that many life forms display intelligence and sentience (i.e., the capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively), not just mammals. We are discovering that crows and octopuses use tools, bees count, fish distinguish between different types of music, and so on, effectively discrediting the age-old Cartesian view that animals are nothing more than automata, or machines driven by instinct.
Now, new research is suggesting that even plants display forms of intelligence and sentience — on the face of it a radical idea, given the common view that smarts and feelings presuppose the possession of a brain, which plants notably lack. For example, plants have figured out how to harness sun’s energy, become carnivorous, use toxins to ward off predators, employ animals for reproduction, etc. In addition to these “problem-solving” abilities, scientists are even discovering that plants respond to music and are capable of complex communication with one another and across species.
This series explores the idea that plants deserve more consideration and empathy than we typically afford them, which has deeper implications for conservation, even plant rights, in light of pollution, habitat loss, and mass extinctions. With humor and exaggeration I turn to my own potted plants, re-imagining them as individuals with distinct personalities and moods. I choose to photograph cacti and other succulents because they already display individuality and character. In addition, succulents are relatable to many by virtue of being part of our popular culture (the Victorians had pteridomania or fern fever; we have succu-mania). I employ experimental photography* and titles to playfully anthropomorphize each subject, thus probing the viewer to question the notion that plants are inherently dissimilar to us.
*The series is produced by experimental application of the historic wet plate collodion process.