The secret to finding unsuspected beauty, artists and naturalists will tell you, is in knowing how to slow down and really look. The writer and photographer Josie Iselin certainly knows how to do that, as she shows in her beguiling new book, “An Ocean Garden.”…
In her introduction Ms. Iselin, whose other books include “Beach Stones” and “Heart Stones,” writes, “I fell in love with seaweed at the kitchen counter.” (She would bring back samples and study them there.) And it vexes her that others don’t share in her tidal pool crush. “It is astonishing,” she says, “how often the seaweeds are overlooked when describing life in the sea.”
The 100 color photographs here, though, just might convince some people that the shore is much more than sun, sand and Coppertone. The images are accompanied by Ms. Iselin’s helpful mini-essays that are both personal and full of seaweed lore.
As she praises her wave-tossed loved ones, she notes that seaweeds — or macroalgae — store carbon, produce oxygen and create habitat in an intertidal world that is alien to most of us. In terms of oxygen production, she writes, the kelp forests of the ocean rival rain forests. The book focuses on seaweeds found in Maine and California, both states she has lived in; the species names tickle the tongue in the same way that the seaweeds themselves can tingle bare feet: knotweed and bladderwrack, bull kelp and green scrap, pepper dulse and sugar kelp, Turkish towel and Irish moss.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, it’s the Californians and not the Mainers that throb with the most radiant colors: wheat yellows and shocking pinks, lurid reds and liquid lavenders. Their Maine cousins tend toward potato browns and seasick greens.
And for those of us who grew up in the Northeast and tend to think of seaweed as a kind of filthy, leathery lasagna pocked with pods straight out of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Ms. Iselin’s West Coast subjects will make us jealous.
Some of the seaweeds look like lace or snow crystals, some are ferny and vinelike, while others beckon like mermaids bearing feathery tresses. Ms. Iselin’s images, made using a flatbed scanner, are also a reminder that the natural world and that of abstract art sometimes aren’t that far apart.
Her photo of Mazzaella volans looks as if it could have been spawned in the imaginations of Yves Tanguy or Joan Miró, while a labyrinth of fu nori writhes with Pollock-like energy.
As an artist, obsessed beachcomber and amateur phycologist — that’s what algae scientists are called — Ms. Iselin writes that her hope is “to reveal the largely unseen forms of ocean flora as a nexus where art and science converge.”
In “An Ocean Garden” she has created such a nexus — and she gladly shares her intertidal delights with the reader.
Photo caption: An Ocean Garden, The Secret Life of Seaweed. By Josie Iselin. 143 pages. Abrams. $17.95.
Dana Jennings, NY Times
View original article at: The Forests of the Ocean