Notes from 1-2-1 with Wendy McMurdo

Wild Carrot copy.png

Daucus carota (Wild Carrot). Banbury Road, Oxford. 21 August 2019. By Gem Toes-Crichton. ©

25th September 2019


  • ‘Landings’ group show.
  • Spent a period of time a little bogged down in the research.
  • Couldn’t find the Arabidopsis plant in the wild as readily as I expected to.
  • Met Pia Ostlund (reaffirmed that I don’t need to make the work so scientific and accurate – just enjoy myself).
  • Showed some of my recent work. (Wild carrot growing in a wall (above), some of the 17th/18th century books and the plant press.)
  • Shared my methodology.


  • Say you create a series of 12/15 cyanotype images of weeds/plants that have self seeded/seeded where they shouldn’t.
  • Always thought that this idea of the weed, something that persists in unlikely places, is a very and useful metaphor to use to explore the struggles of early women botanists – which is your project, Gem isn’t it?
  • So essentially, what you’ve got to do, is produce a series of images that are coherent visually.
  • So you’re looking at creating quite a tight series, like a typology, that sit together really usefully, and then the other part of the project is the contextualisation.
  • I imagine you will be writing up these women’s stories, thinking about how you will tie these to the images is something to thing about, whether it will be image > text > image > text etc or a series of images and a longer exploratory yet at the end is something to really focus on.


  • Not sure whether use the digital/in situ images… feedback in Amsterdam was that they didn’t show the habitat.
  • Currently have a lot of material to work with.
  • Concerned about how to bring it all together visually, and how I might share the work/outputs. Whether I will show it, or put together a dummy book.
  • Also wanted to mount the pressed plants, could perhaps show this later?


  • You talked about making cyanotypes/contact prints?
  • You showed me Elina Brotherus’ cyanotypes (also here) and how she was pressing plants, and I know this idea of pressing has been a part of your work for a while.
  • Also when Chrystel Lebas’ talk this afternoon she will perhaps share similar work too (colour prints).
  • So I thought rather than photographing the plants in situ, you might be taking them out and presenting them more like still life objects, next to the stories? But if course that is up to you.
  • I remember you showing me the book by William Arnold’s – Surburban Herbarium. I was interested to see the way he took the specimens out of context and isolated them. I think the one thing photography does really well, is to take things out of context and isolate them, and that is likely to work better for your project.
  • Photographing the specimens in situ is very very different.
  • I found it very interesting that you mentioned the gluing, pinning and stitching of herbarium specimens, so you can identify where a specimen was made and mounted.

(Shared the photos of all stages, in situ, on flimsy.)


  • I thought you were collecting stories on the women botanists from the archives as well?
  • I think what you need to do now is start pulling together discreet ideas.
  • You have clearly done a huge amount of research, so now you need to think about breaking things down.
  • So perhaps in the next week, produce say 6 pairings.
  • Perhaps crop, quite wide, your images of specimens, and sit these next to a short piece of text, about an individual. Almost like a small zine.
  • Start exploring with these images.
  • Don’t forget your proposal, and where you want to get to, don’t get lost and forget your central idea.
  • Using this idea of the weed as metaphor, of pressing as well, and the illusions of containment that pressing brings with it, and then you use that as a visual analogy to explore the stories of these women. – Great subject!
  • So it’s important now for you to pull yourself back, and remind yourself of what you want to do, and start to make some mock ups.
  • Personally, photographing the plants in a field doesn’t work.
  • You’re talking about botany, and the whole activity of collecting, and what that means symbolically, historically and socially. – Which is a really interesting subject, so I’d be cautious about straying from that.
  • You have your examples, and you have been looking at Christine Borland’s work, which I think is really important for you.
  • I think the idea of the specimen is absolutely key for you, and this idea of the weed, and the metaphor for growth, root systems etc.
  • All of these things will tie in with what I see as a set of stories.
  • Important to reign yourself back now. You have done all of the research, and now you really need to commit yourself to it.
  • Create some mock ups using the pressed specimens, then lets meet again soon. Perhaps start with text and image. Make a PDF of these and we can discuss them.
  • Take a look at Anne Collier’s work – an American artists who photographs the open book, really interested in the way that photography’s consumed.
  • Looking at the way people use objects and books can be really interesting. You showed me that amazing book and the press attached to it, which are fascinating objects in themselves!
  • Sometimes photographing these objects properly from above, and sitting these next to text or an alternate social history or story of the person that made that could make a beautiful, distinct series of say 6 images of books. Think back to how Anne Collier shoots her books.
  • They are such amazing objects, so don’t lose the power of the research you are actually looking at.

(Explained that I did this as I undertook the research; shooting from above with my camera mounted on a tripod.)


  • So you have two ideas here; your specimen which is very much about scale. They are very fragile objects, sitting, lost on a white sheet. I think it is important that you use that. Then the objects/books themselves.
  • So you have two discreet and related bodies of work here, and there is no reason why you can’t quickly assemble both of these.
  • I see these as two related short series which are very closely related.
  • I recommend working like this as one series might be a run away success, and one thing might be interesting, but not work as well.
  • Make these and then make a decision later on.
  • You have a couple of months, so plenty of time to do your printing.


  • Was planning to make some contact prints and cyanotypes from the pressed specimens.
  • I have also been photographing the specimens on the acid free paper (flimsies) – do you see that as something to continue? (Wendy: yes, but you may wish to invert them, or manipulate them in some way or make alternate prints… but it’s up to you how you approach that.)
  • My plan was to create prints from the actual specimens I have been collecting and pressing.


  • Pia Ostlund was absolutely right in this when you spoke to her. You are unnecessarily nailing your foot to the ground.
  • What you need to focus on, is finding an analogy. Remember what the project is about, how it started, refer back to your FMP proposal. What were you interested in doing when you wrote it?
  • You were and are interested in exploring the importance, position and difficulties that women had as early collectors – which is a fantastic project.
  • All you need to do is find some sort of visual analogy. In a way, it could be any specimen. It is just a vehicle with which to explore this idea.


  • Have been a little concerned about it, as there is so much stuff/research to sift through, and it doesn’t feel very coherent at the moment. I am just unsure about how to share/show this work…and feeling a bit stuck.


  • Start making this work and we will meet again.
  • You could start by collating a series of short stories on these women.
  • Decide who your subjects are, shoot the specimens to sit alongside these stories, and then we can take it from there.

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