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Exquisite portraits of plants created using the Victorian photo method

These intricate plant images are a nod to Victorian botanical techniques that used silver to reveal the inner beauty of plants – collected here by the photographer William Arnold on country walks


October 28, 2020

By Gege Li

Common honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) and cut crane's beak (Geranium dissectum) (from left to right)

William Arnold / Panos Pictures

William Arnold

Panos pictures

These exquisite and intricate plant portraits by photographer William Arnold are a nod to the Victorian era of botany, as well as the rural beauty hidden in English hedges and curbs.


Arnold collected a number of plants while walking in Truro, Cornwall, before printing photos of them in black and white using a technique called silver gelatin printing.

Standard image of the new scientistMen and women (Arum maculatum)

William Arnold / Panos Pictures

Developed in 1871, the process involved printing photographs on paper coated with a layer of gelatin containing silver halides, chemical compounds that are sensitive to light. After exposure to a negative image (where the lightest areas appear dark and vice versa) and development with chemicals, small particles of silver are bound to the gelatin to create the final image.

This printing form not only preserves plants in all their natural splendor, but also shows the fine details of petals, leaves, flowers and stems.

Standard image of the new scientistScarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) and California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) (from left to right)

William Arnold / Panos Pictures

These images come from the 100 prints in Arnold's most recent book, Suburban Herbarium.

Arnold's paintings can be seen at the Newlyn Art Gallery in Cornwall until January 2nd, 2021. He is also working with the Eden Project to involve the public in collecting local specimens across the UK.

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