Microbiota is a photographic installation that maps bacterial life. Blending microbiological protocols with artistic vision,
reveals invisible yet ubiquitous aspects of our shared environments. This collection of bacterial photographs were sampled, cultured, stained and photographed to raise public awareness of the unseen bacterial environment around us. While pathogenic bacteria are extensively studied and are of most concern, this installation places our environmental co-habitants in their own spotlight.
The unaltered photographs depict environmental microbial flora, as cultured from selected urban and rural locations, stained and photographed by the artist. A custom microscopic photography method was devised specifically for this research to provide a natural black background and softened sphere-like edges to obtain a satellite-like aesthetic relating both the micro and macroscopic aspects of our universe.
Soil samples were collected in sterilized containers from 25 urban and rural areas near Kingston, Ontario.
Samples were transported to a microbiology laboratory for processing. They were catalogued, and the soil was suspended in sterile saline solution to maximize bacterial capture.
Liquid from soil suspensions was quadrant streaked onto Columbia Blood Agar media and incubated for 24 hours at 37C.
Since the samples were cultured on non-selective media (no additives present to select for certain bacterial species) all culturable environmental flora would be present. Individual colonies can exhibit a variety of morphologies (appearance), with some locations having less bacterial diversity than others.
Gram Staining was used as the primary staining method. At this step, proper clinical preparation techniques were replaced with an artistic exploration approach. Specifically, certain method ideals were either abandoned or modified to experiment with staining aesthetics. For example, the recommended protocol calls for minimal loading of bacteria onto the glass slide, thus creating a monolayer of bacterial cells for easy identification. Here, the amount of bacteria and the duration of staining was altered to use the Gram stain outside the confines of scientific regimen.
To capture bacterial photographs at 100X and 1000X magnification, a custom photography method was employed, where the camera was carefully balanced until a microscopic image, resembling a sphere was obtained. The time-lapse shows the process of capturing such a photograph, which required frequent adjustment and focus.
This research was made possible by Candace Scott and Grace Wilder, who graciously
allowed me the use of the St Lawrence College microbiology laboratory.