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Photographer Erno-Erik Raitanen Shows the Beautiful Side of Bacteria in Photograms

By Ruth Dunn on May 23rd 2013

The usual response to bacteria is to reach for a bottle of disinfectant, however Finnish photographer Erno-Erik Raitanen captures bacteria in a very different light. In a series of beautiful images, Raitanen has challenged our negative responses to germs by bringing into focus the beauty of the bacteria that we live with every day.

Collecting bacteria samples from his own mouth using a cotton swab, Raitanen began experimenting with photograms–where objects are placed on film while it’s exposed to light. He cultivated his bacteria on photographic film and, after a lot of trial and error, he produced a fascinating series of images which he calls “Bacteriograms”.

Raitenan explains:

“I assumed it would be possible to spur a microbiological culture using photographic film as a growth medium. So it was just a matter of figuring out how to actually do it and how to achieve aesthetically pleasing results at the same time. The process is pretty much the traditional microbiological culture process, but instead of agar on petri dishes I used the gelatin on the film.”

Bacteriograms (Self-Portrait No. 4). Image by Erno-Erik Raitanen.

The “Bacteriograms” aren’t actually images of the bacteria themselves, but rather the effects of the microbes on the negative. Stripping away the layers of color within the color negative, the cultures create the forms and patterns we see in the finished products.

Raitenan’s “Bacteriograms” break away from the meticulousness photographers often exert over their work by embracing this freer and more spontaneous process.

“I wanted to have as little control over the end results as possible. It was quite liberating just to let the process take its course.”

Excited by the scientific process, Raitanen describes his images as going back to the roots of photography, a time when science was a central aspect of photography.

“I was excited about experimenting with the biological, chemical and physical properties of photography, and in a sense I was going back to the roots of photography — to a time of Niepce, Daguerre and Fox Talbot, when photography was seen as science rather than art.”

To see the whole series click here.

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Ruth is a Brisbane based journalist specialising in articles about visual art, photography, design and fashion. Co-founder of Raw Ink magazine, she enjoys uncovering interesting and unique events, issues and people to write about.

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