Robert Dash is an educator, naturalist and photographer whose work features the complex textures and patterns of micro nature. His photographs have been published by National Geographic, TIME, and Lenswork, and have appeared in galleries and...
Focus:Photographer, Science, Author
Skills:Digital Printing, Adobe Photoshop, Apple Final Cut Pro, Black & White Printing
Food For Thought/ Micro Views of Sustenance: Threats and Prospects
We humans are busy going about our lives, while nature is in shock from the choices that we make. This series offers a micro perspective on how one part of nature–our food–is connected to climate change. As a career educator, lifetime fan of tiny nature, and photographer, I'm compelled to interpret these issues in a new way.
Every day, we’re more intimately tied to food than most anything else. Foods become our personal friends, or adversaries; these relationships play out on the world stage as they shape environmental quality, and even climate change. Making new "food friends" and letting go of old ones, as a society, can dramatically impact these issues.
These images symbolize both the abundance and the threat that humanity has brought to the dinner table. I feature resilient, edible seeds and grains like millet and sunflower, which offer significant minerals and nutrients and can be a great source of plant protein. Reducing meat consumption in favor of these plant sources would have a huge impact on reducing greenhouse gasses. Staple crops like wheat, rice and soy are all threatened by human-caused climate change. Yields and nutrient values of these and other foods are decreasing, putting extra strain on developing regions. Regenerative agriculture and carbon farming offer an alternative strategy. Rebuilding soil is one of the most powerful ways to capture carbon, and earthworms are heroes in this process. Azolla, the high-protein, fast-growing floating fern which is credited with removing half of the planet's excess CO2 50 million years ago, symbolizes the power of plants to heal the planet.
Images were made with a scanning electron microscope; they feature natural objects that are often smaller than a pinhead. DSLR macro photography completes the photomontages, to allow a surreal conversation between natural objects, and minute details of themselves. They are inspired by nature, and the artistic visions of Uelsmann, Blossfeldt, and Chris Jordan. Images are best seen at 30” x 30”.
This image in inspired by the 1968 Earthrise photo taken from space by William Anders. That iconic image launched the environmental movements decades ago. Today, agriculture is both a major source and potential healer of the climate crisis. Blueberries in Michigan are being impacted by seasonal shifts which bring new pests, harsh weather, and fewer pollinators. Blueberry seed: 300x
Olives are another staple food impacted by climate change. In 2018, the olive oil industry in Italy crashed, while Spain’s olives did very well. Climate chaos impacts the range and viability of crops, and this pattern is being repeated worldwide. Olive bud: 80x, leaf: 270x
Lace lichen has been used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes; it has antibacterial properties. Lichens are an indicator of clean air, and lace lichen doesn’t thrive where there are significant levels of pollution. It has been impacted by wildfires caused by drought; researchers have found it failing to return to burn sites even ten years after a fire. Lichen: 50x
Tomatoes are currently buffeted by swings of flooding, seasonal shifts, pests and pollinator changes. Growers are experimenting with new varieties that could handle this adversity. Tomato pollen: 1500x, tomato sepal: 240x
One of the key threats of climate change is the reduction of yields for staple crops in most regions worldwide. At the same time, nutrient contents of food crops will decrease while carbohydrate contents will increase. This will have particularly harsh impacts in the developing world.
Warming oceans stoke diseases that have wiped out sunflower stars along the Pacific coast. Kelp-eating urchins thrive without predation from the stars. Kelp reduces ocean acidification, captures carbon and provides habitat. Urchin tube foot disk: 270x, urchin teeth marks on bull kelp:1x
Most lettuce grown in the USA comes from Arizona and California. In recent years, both locations have experienced unseasonal shifts in heat and rain which delayed plantings or caused early harvests. The E coli outbreak on Romaine lettuce is being tied to warming temperatures. Seeds: 80x
Rice is imperiled by rising sea levels, and shifting geographic ranges. Rice crops produce a great deal of methane, but researchers now explore how to grow rice without this greenhouse gas as a byproduct.
50 million years ago, Azolla grew in such huge quantities that it is credited with removing half of the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This fast-growing, high-protein plant is being used for livestock feed, and possibly, for human consumption as well.
The decline of bees worldwide is well-documented, as is the threat to crops that rely on them for pollination. Little known is that natural mycelial extracts are being developed which boost bee immunity. Mycologist Paul Stamets says,, “Mycelium is the immune system of the mushroom.” Fuzz: 800x
Three grains of "topsoil" versus three "grains" of compost at 90x – compost creates a sponge in soil, collecting water, air, and room for roots to spread. This is the foundation of a carbon-rich soil, which is the base of a cooler planet.
The addition of biochar to soils, if done correctly, greatly increases the capacity of soils to hold water, nutrients and carbon. Use of biochar can be a "carbon negative" process. The central biochar in this image is the size of a pinhead, and the crystalline, porous surface hints at its sponge-like qualities.
High quality protein can be produced at a fraction of the resource cost (land, water, energy) compared to traditional livestock agriculture. Chips made from crickets and burgers from peas are just a few examples of options that are recently becoming popular. Pollen: 2400x, Cricket leg: 110x, wing: 24x
A key principal of regenerative agriculture is: keep soil covered—no bare ground (soil bakes, micro organisms die, erosion damages.) Cover crops reverse this, and add essential nitrogen and carbon to soil without petrochemicals. Clover flower: 800x, Rye awn: 150x
A key principal of regenerative agriculture is: Keep Soil Covered—no bare ground (soil bakes, micro organisms die, erosion damages.) Cover crops reverse this, and add essential nitrogen and carbon to soil without petrochemicals. Fava Pollen: 3400x
Fungal/mycelial networks are indispensable for creating healthy soil, optimum conditions for plant growth, and remarkably: rain. Trillions of fungal spoors released into the air act as rain seeds, which create clouds. Wine cap mycelium:1x, lion’s mane: 1x, golden oyster:1x
Hemp (a different species than marijuana) is a remarkable plant, with an estimated 2000 uses. These include protein-rich nutritional seeds, oils and leaves, textiles, building materials, CBD oil, to name a few. Hemp has only recently become legal to grow commercially, and farmers are relearning how best to highlight this crop. Leaf: 170x
Sunflowers are highly resistant to drought, increased heat, and disease. They’re seen as a key species by researchers looking to support healthy crops in the future. Petals:130x, Pollen: 900x, Floret: 700x