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Natural Geometry in the Judaean Mountains

Victoria Neblik writes:

They say that when you design a logo- for a corporation or a project, you should always be sure it looks great in black and white. Partly that is a practical consideration because office stationery is often printed or photocopied in black and white, but there is a more fundamental reason; art, as everyone knows, is about both colour and shape. We live in a world of dazzling colour (as a botanical photographer I make money from that very fact), but underneath all of that polychromic razzmataz, there is a glorious elegance and symplicity -a sort of zen that comes from gazing upon certain shapes and forms. If I say "New Zealand Fern", for example, there is an immediate mental picture and a feeling that accompanies those words- the same for "Pinecone" or "Seashell".

Now, given that this is a scientific site, we could - probably should- segue at this point into some comments about Natural Symmetry, Fractals, Jacob Bernoulli , D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, Benoit Mandelbrot or Logarithmic spirals. I should probably say something about the mechanisms behind natural patterns (some of which are understood in beautiful detail) Yes, I probably should talk about all of that. However, I have never been much of a fan of "should", to be honest; instead, I just want to keep this post short with a few snapshots of natural geometry collected from my walks in the Judaean Mountains. Sometimes pictures speak louder than words.

So, first up is a discarded snail shell or, if you prefer, a logarithmic spiral rendered in pure white, nacre. It's a common sight, but stil, I feel, an uncommonly beautiful one.

Worn but bright white snail shell showing neat spiral shape and diagonal textured markings on background of lichen-flecked sandy-coloured rock
(c) Victoria Neblik, 2018

Less immaculately organised, but equally beautiful, in my oppinion, are the tracks of beetle larvae that once ran under the bark of tree trunk. The tree is now long dead and felled as part of the local forest management programme, but still beautiful in its own way, none-the-less. In photographic terms, none of this is very sophisticated- after years of fiddling around with very high end light sources and lighting techniques, I now take almost all of my pictures in natural light- in this case in the so-called "golden hour" before dusk in the evening. A big factor in this shot was aligning the log so that the natural shadows fell in the best positions to highlight the beetle tracks.

Macro photograph of Buff-coloured aged tree trunk with sets of branching, fern-shaped grooves left by insects
(c) Victoria Neblik, 2018

In many ways, this sight is like a trace fossil- a long-term record of a far more fleeting event.

(c) Victoria Neblik, 2018

In plants, you can find the same visual idea when leaves or flowers which trace a certain path through the air in pursuit of the sun gradually grow into a more permanent version of that gnarled and twisted shape.

Green curly, spiny  thistle-type leaves with bright white veins. Background of green prickly pear pads and unripe green prickly pears with geometrically arrayed spines
(c) V. Neblik, 2018

Flower geometry could fill more books than I have life left to write, so let me keep things down to just one image-

Purple and white flower, petals open
(c) Victoria Neblik, 2018

Here, in the softest possible focus, I have cheated, because the background colours and their counterpoint with the petals' purple makes this picture as much about colour as it is about shape.That being said, there is some method to including the picture because the images that have worked best for me (and sold best for me) are not all about colour, nor all about shape, but about the two combined. It is useful for photographic training purposes to spend some time thinking about shape by itself, particularly for those, like me, who get drawn endlessly towards the brightest, most colourful blooms on display, but at the same time, it is important to note that the shape and the colour together have a greater impact when working in concert than either does on its own. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. This idea is perhaps a useful endpoint because brings us back to the natural world more generally.

In photography there is a synergy of colour and shape* and a few variations in each of these components separately brings a mass of variations when the two are combined. In biology, we hear that certain shapes and forms also recur for biomechanical reasons or because of the way cells divide in living organisms. There is a reason that a tree has a similiar, branching, yet rounded, shape to a lung, for example. There is a reason a turtle is shaped somewhat like a beetle. You might think of these as the natural world solving recurring problems by using certain "favourite geometries" again and again, in different contexts. The number of these geomteries that one encounters in the natural world is not infinite. Yet, when you pair different "favoured geomtries" with one another in different animals and you add -perhaps- different "preferred pigments" (again from a non-infinite selection), the combination produces more possible variations and more types of animals and plants than any of us could ever imagine in our wildest dreams. The whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.


-V. Neblik for

More from this author/illustrator:

Victoria Neblik is the author/illustrator of "Where Flowers Bloom", which is available on Amazon Kindle [Here]. Her work also features in the new book from The Greatest Minds: "Marie Curie and the Ibexes".


(*I have previously lectured on the importance of "texture" in photography- if you look at the works of Ansel Adams, for example, the texture is amazing- you can almost touch it. However, texture in photographic works is really just very sharp and clearly focussed details of shape. A tree, for example, is rough and textured because of the shape of the undulations and "imperfections" in its bark. So texture really just fits under the category of "shape".)



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