During his graduate studies in microbiology, artist Zachary Copfer invented a new type of photography, one grown entirely of living bacteria. By exposing sections of microscopic organisms to radiation, he accelerates their growth, allowing them to multiply and compose vivid photographic portraits. Copfer’s subjects include both artists and scientists who inspire him; famous images Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso are replicated in Serratia marcescens, a human pathogen often associated with infections of the urinary tract and respiratory systems. The portrait of Stephen Fry is made of bacteria found in the actor’s own body.
Copfer’s portraits closely resemble the art of Roy Lichtenstein; his faces bear the same comic book-style polka dots made famous by the legendary pop artist. Also like Lichtenstein’s paintings and prints, they are duplicates of mass-produced, iconic public domain images. But quite unlike the work of Lichenstein and his colleagues, Copfer’s images are imbued with an undeniably unique and human tenor. These bacterial cells, some drawn from the bodies of the subjects they portray, are corporeal and therefore inevitably personal. In contrast the ink used by the pop artists, these cells will someday die. Though iconic, these portraits are ultimately of mortal men, and the fact that they are rendered here in disease-causing bacteria only underscores that fact.
In addition to portraiture, Copfer experiments with photographs of celestial bodies. Here, in glowing green E. coli genetically modified with GFP, the vast cosmos are paradoxically formed from the microscopic, reminding us that in the end, all matter great and small is profoundly interconnected. Take a look. (via Jezebel)
Microbiologist Christina Agapakis and scent artist Sissel Tolaas‘ science-meets-art project “Self Made” seeks to challenge the way we think about microbes, scent, and the nature of disgust. Most cheese is made by taking milk and spoiling it with the bacteria, Lactobacillus. This bacteria transform milk sugars into acid, causing it to coagulate. The chunks are removed from the liquid and aged with specific yeast that creates specific cheeses. Lactobacillus and yeast can be found all around us, including our own skin. Agapakis and Tolaas take microbes from people’s skin – like Michael Pollan’s belly button or artist Olafur Eliasson’s tears – and add them to milk in order to create a human microbial cheese portrait (a cheese selfie?).
“The idea was to recognize, how do we get grossed out? Then to think about it and move beyond that initial idea of disgust,” Agapakis says. “Why are we more uncomfortable with bacteria on the body than we are with bacteria in cheese?”
From the artists’ statement, “Many of the stinkiest cheeses are hosts to species of bacteria closely related to the bacteria responsible for the characteristic smells of human armpits or feet. Can knowledge and tolerance of bacterial cultures in our food improve tolerance of the bacteria on our bodies? How do humans cultivate and value bacterial cultures on cheeses and fermented foods? How will synthetic biology change with a better understanding of how species of bacteria work together in nature as opposed to the pure cultures of the lab?”