Early Life


The images are representations of the first eight days of life of two species of amphibians. Wood frogs were once one of the most abundant frogs in New England. Over the past century populations have plummeted making wood frogs one of the more rare frogs encountered in the region and protected in New York State. Spotted salamanders begin their pilgrimage to breeding pools in the late winter. For the salamanders to successfully reproduce they need unmoving clean water that does not contain predatory fish. This species has declined because of introduced game fish that feed on mating adults and their larval offspring.

In 1989 at an international herpetological (the study of amphibians and reptiles) conference, scientists made an alarming discovery—that all over the globe amphibian populations are disappearing! The declines are happening everywhere, even in pristine areas where urban sprawl could not be a factor. Frogs, toads, and salamanders are among the oldest life forms on the earth. They have lived through several global extinctions and flourished millions of years before and after the dinosaurs. Because of their mucous-based skin they are particularly sensitive to evasive contaminates. Believed to be the environmental equivalent to the “canary in the coal mine,” possible causes for amphibian population declines include: the loss of suitable breeding habitat, increased ultra-violet radiation from ozone thinning, chemical “by product” contaminates (both agricultural and industrial), domestic chemical contamination (such as pesticides and lawn fertilizers), introduction of non-native fish into their breeding areas, global climate change, and new viral and fungal agents.

These images were created using a technologically advanced design scanner as a camera. First, two egg masses (each containing several hundred individual eggs) were carefully collected from a small wetland in western New York State. Second, the eggs were gently separated and staged onto the glass bed of the scanner for digital recording. Concerned about light and composition, each specimen required multiple variations in technique. These explorations, along with experimenting with the system’s software, allowed for considerable aesthetic variation. The developing organisms were scanned at 1200 to 8000 dpi. This is approximately 26 times the output of a typical domestic scanner! The appeal of this process is found in the incredible detail that is able to be digitally captured, such as the cellular wall of the egg or previously unnoticed microscopic parasites. Using this technique for species documentation allows for considerable improvement over conventional methods used for zoological cataloging.

To portray the detailed imagery, an IRIS drum printer was used. The IRIS printer sprays microscopic drops of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black onto the surface of the paper. A single 36 by 48 inch IRIS print may have over a billion individual drops of ink. This high color definition process allows for image enlargement without loss of detail. The paper is Arches Cold Press watercolor paper, an archival paper used for various other types of printing.

High resolution scanning conducted at the Institute for Electronic Arts supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, School of Art and Design New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Alfred, New York.