Robert Dash

Food For Thought
Location: San Juan Islands, Washington State
Nationality: American
Biography: Robert Dash is an educator and award-winning photographer whose work features micro nature with macro impact. His work has been published by National Geographic, TIME, Lenswork, and Buzzfeed, and exhibited in the US and overseas. Dash’s On... MORE
Public Story
Food For Thought
Copyright Robert Dash 2023
Date of Work Apr 2018 - Ongoing
Updated Sep 2021
Topics Climate Change, Conceptual, Editorial, Environment, Fine Art, Spotlight
Food is life. In a sane world, the current threats to our food supply would hijack our attention and rally our action. This traveling exhibition series extols the artistic beauty of food–mostly of the plant variety. It names food’s climate-related threats, celebrates regenerative agriculture, and makes a plea for sanity to prevail.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve explored the stories and visual impacts of hundreds of foods. I'm drawn to foods with spectacular textures, patterns, and shapes, and those with a significant story related to climate change. I employ photomontage to blend SEM micrographs of pollen, seeds, leaves, and other elements with macro photography images, creating a surreal conversation between a food and microscopic parts of itself. Combining these scales in one image embraces a new visual language, with metaphor, fact, humor, story, surrealism, and environmental commentary. My hope is that these images will stir imaginations, provoke ideas and questions, and connect people more intimately to the world they help shape.

I’ve always had a fascination with how art and science intersect. My undergraduate studies focused on natural history, environmental studies, and education. Teaching became my career, where I continued to promote interdisciplinary, thematic studies. Outside of work, during the past  ten years in particular, I’ve given much attention to developing my photographic eye.

A recurring challenge has been: how to visualize complex ideas (beauty of textures and patterns, climate change impacts, metaphor, and fact) in the confines of a single image? I settled on photomontage, where I create a surreal conversation between the lifesized version of an object, and microscopic parts of itself.

Five years ago, I was thrilled to learn the art of scanning electron microscopy under the direction of Dr. Adam Summers at Friday Harbor Labs. Adam very generously took the time to orient me to the workings of the JCL Neoscope 5000, and from the first image, I was hooked.

Since the earlier years at FHL, both my technique and my focus have radically adjusted in order to produce Food for Thought. Of particular importance was the addition of focus stacking and panorama stitching to both micrographs and macro photographs. This involved a tedious practice of making and combining, at times, hundreds of individual images to produce one final study of a seed, pollen grain, algae blade, or leaf. These techniques allowed me to present objects in ways that vastly improved on what the SEM or camera could normally reveal. Additionally, this greatly increases the file size, allowing images to remain sharp even when enlarged to exhibition size.

The process of exploring these foods has given me a great appreciation for the power of plants, microbes, mushrooms, and healthy soils, to repair what we have broken. Do we have sense enough to notice, and to do all that we can to collaborate with them?

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