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Book Review: Phenotype


Book Review Phenotype By Jochen Lempert Reviewed by Nicholas Chiarella Biological information is essentially a binary matter: storage and presentation, genotype and phenotype. Genetic programming establishes the organism; its outward features, internal dynamics, and behaviors are a reflection of the programming. As a biologist turned photographer, Jochen Lempert uses photography to reflect these concepts of information storage and display back on themselves, speaking to the disciplines of photography and biology equally.

Phenotype. By Jochen Lempert.
Walther Konig, 2013.
 
Phenotype
Reviewed by Nicholas Chiarella

Phenotype
Photographs by Jochen Lempert

$69.95
Walther Koenig, 2013. 348 pp., 450 black & white illustrations, 8x11".


Biological information is essentially a binary matter: storage and presentation, genotype and phenotype. Genetic programming establishes the organism; its outward features, internal dynamics, and behaviors are a reflection of the programming. As a biologist turned photographer, Jochen Lempert uses photography to reflect these concepts of information storage and display back on themselves, speaking to the disciplines of photography and biology equally.

Lempert's Phenotype is a retrospective collection of images, covering a period of over 20 years. The images focus closely on living forms, yet surpass being simple documentation or idle investigations into natural beauty. Instead, the images hinge on the dual capacity of photography to reveal meaningful relationships of outward and inward form. In this collection, photographs are used to their full extent as systems for organizing information into bracketed moments of evocative visual data, wherein meaning and aesthetics play equal roles.

Phenotype. By Jochen LempertWalther Konig, 2013.

Humans and human artifacts are displayed within their "natural" environments as co-equals to unshaped "nature." The series "Airplanes in the Gymnosperm Forest" documents the overhead flight of passenger jets through forest canopy. Though the concept may also be humorous, these images seem to be created in earnest. Is it unnatural to consider photographing airplanes "in the wild"? In the opening series of the book, humans running through the park, rocks in the sand, and animals at rest provide a vibrant sense of habitat. The subjects do not seem to be far differentiated from the view of the photographer.

Phenotype. By Jochen LempertWalther Konig, 2013.

"Constellations" also draws parallels between patterns of life animate and inanimate–cells blotted on a slide, birds gathered on the surface of water, the Big Dipper, and a relief carved into a brick wall all point to a tendency to see groups of objects as meaningful, interdependent unities, especially when captured through the lens of a camera. Photographs of Charles Alexander's writings on "new or little-known crane flies" becomes a collection of unique specimen, order: writings, family: monographs.

Phenotype. By Jochen LempertWalther Konig, 2013.

In the series "Anna Atkins," Lempert uses film to capture computer screen shots of "Cyanotypes of British Algae," including in the image the familiar menu bar and dock of the Macintosh operating system. This process of media reflexivity not only serves as an homage to the earliest photographic book, but also calls attention to the close unity between scientific practice and the development of photographic imaging. More mysteriously, the Atkins series includes the image of a dappled shoulder pressed against glass. This image evokes the feeling of the life pressed between glass and photographic paper in Atkins' images. Are we meant to imagine the shoulder as that of Atkins herself? Are the freckles symbolic of the sun-driven exposure process of cyanotypes? From just a few standard silver gelatin images, Lempert creates a taxonomy of the medium, its traditions, and its technological progress.

Phenotype. By Jochen LempertWalther Konig, 2013.



The 450 images of Phenotype are both magical explorations of life patterns and subtle reflections on the nature and history of photography and scientific concern. They suggest, like the writings of Charles Darwin, a seemingly unavoidable link between the naturalist's scientific curiosity and wonder-filled gaze.—NICHOLAS CHIARELLA

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NICHOLAS CHIARELLA is presently an administrative assistant and contributing faculty member at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. He has previously coordinated education programs for 516 ARTS (ISEA2012) and for Meow Wolf and the Center for Contemporary Arts (CHIMERA). His poems and photographs have appeared in Santa Fe Trend, Slideluck Potshow, BathHouse Hypermedia Journal, the Mayo Review, and others. He drums for Santa Fe-based duo Alamo Sun, most recently collaborated on an installation with artist Martha Tuttle at Dwight Hackett Projects, and has contributed work to installations and group shows with Meow Wolf, Caldera, and The Tan.

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