Artist Svjetlana Tepavcevic is a portraitist of seeds. When she finds a seed she doesn’t recognize she appreciates it for a while on its own, visual terms, before attaching it’s scientific name and history. Often this information leads to a revelation; “I think the most fascinating discovery for me, given that my background is not in botany or natural sciences, is that there is a precise mathematical arrangement of cone scales in the Sequoia tree (and other plants too) that follows the Fibonacci Series principle.” However, it was the Marah Macrocarpus, a type of wild cucumber that looked like “a cross between a porcupine and a medieval canon ball” that stopped Tepavcevic in her tracks and became the genesis of the sequence.
Tepavcevic limits her project to seeds that she comes by naturally, but this doesn’t prevent her from desiring the occasional exotic specimen. Tepavcevic says, “Nutmeg (no. 807) got to me through a good friend. Last year, I found a picture of nutmeg with mace and was stunned. I wanted it desperately. But nutmegs don’t grow where I live and I don’t buy the seeds for the project. Their discovery has to be part of my every-day life. I let go of the wish to possess it but still hoped that one day I would have a chance to come across it. I have a couple of good friends (we met in my first photography class in 2006), who send me seeds from time to time as they love my project. I was visiting LA last summer, and one of these friends texted me that she wanted to meet me for a drink because she had some ‘badass seeds’, as she put it. We met and she presented me with 3 nutmegs. A co-worker of her had a bag of nutmegs in her office (they came from India). I couldn’t believe my eyes⎯the nutmegs with mace just presented themselves to me and my friend didn’t know that I wanted them.”
Tepavcevic uses a scanner rather than a camera to create her close-up images of seeds in the “Means of Reproduction” series, which allows her to make a detailed “intimate portrait” of each specimen simply, by placing them directly on the scanner glass. Many of the seeds have to be imaged quickly, as they can dry out–as in the case of the avocado seed, where she had mere minutes to make the scan. The process has its limitations, often Tepavcevic makes a scan 30 times and still does not succeed. Sometimes the objects won’t cooperate, refusing to lie on the side Tepavcevic wants to show, changing appearance, or getting damaged.
Keeping track of the origins of the seeds in her collection is important. This, she says, helps her feel connected to the plants and the landscapes that host them. Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and now living in Washington, DC, Tepavcevic knows what it feels like to be rootless–she says the seeds show her a way for her to feel at home in the world. In her artist statement, she writes of the seeds “They remind me: however tough the circumstances, life’s overwhelming purpose is to reproduce itself. They also remind me of the massive complexities in nature, all around us, complexities that remain invisible to us.” Tepavcevic has a book underway, and the large format images will be on exhibit in Santa Fe at the Photo-Eye gallery beginning May 17th, 2013.