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Two members of the Canadian Museum of Nature botanical research team share their passion for their work, the Arctic and photography

(Version française de ce texte)

Hello all,

As a volunteer for the botany department of the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN), I have the great pleasure of collaborating with the researchers who go on expeditions to collect the plant specimens that will enrich the collections of the National Herbarium of Canada.

Last Friday, during a meeting of the nature group of the Club de photographie Polarisé de l’Outaouais, we welcomed two members of the CMN botanical research team who told us about their northern adventures, the challenges of setting up photographic exhibitions for a national museum, and described the photographic techniques they use to document, preserve and share the botanical wonders of the tundra.

Since 2008, Roger Bull, senior research assistant and coordinator of the museum’s DNA laboratory, and Paul Sokoloff, research assistant in botany, accompanied CMN botanists during several expeditions to collect plants.

 Roger Bull stays calm despite the mosquitoes attacking him - Jeff Saarela © CMN


Roger Bull stays calm despite the mosquitoes attacking him – Jeff Saarela © CMN

Paul Sokoloff displaying a pendant-pod oxytrope - Roger Bull © CMN

Paul Sokoloff displaying a pendant-pod oxytrope – Roger Bull © CMN

Paul and Roger subdivided their presentation into four parts:

2012 EXPEDITION DOWN THE SOPER RIVER, BAFFIN ISLAND

To start things off, Paul took us in the Katannilik Territorial Park, southern Baffin Island (Nunavut) where we relived their 2012 expedition. He explained how the team decided on the location of their expedition, the courses they had to follow before departure (canoeing, whitewater rafting, firearm handling) and the logistics surrounding the planning of the trip (more than 1000 pounds of equipment, 400 cookies, 500 tea bags, …). We then relived their three week expedition, during which they rafted down the Soper River, making various stops en route to collect specimens.

Campement de long de la rivière Soper - Paul Sokoloff © MCN

Campement de long de la rivière Soper – Paul Sokoloff © MCN

Paul also explained the different tasks surrounding the collect of specimens: the note-taking, the identification of the plants, the presses used for drying the plants,…

To relive this expedition, take a look at the various texts written by Paul on the museum’s blog:

THE ROLE OF EXPEDITION PHOTOGRAPHER

Roger then took over to explain his role as “expedition photographer”. Trained in ornithology, during these botanical expeditions, Roger is in charge of logistics (including the dehydration of hundreds of pounds of food) and uses his photographic talents, inherited from his mother at an early age, to visually document the plants, the wildlife, the land, the communities visited, the camp life as well as the work accomplished by his colleagues.

The presses used to dry the plants during the expedition – Roger Bull © CMN

The presses used to dry the plants during the expedition – Roger Bull © CMN

Roger described the many challenges he has to face, from mosquitoes to strong winds or from the smallness of some plants to low light conditions. Very often his work must be done quickly and he can not afford to take time to set up properly.

One of his primary concerns is to bring back, for each plant species, a variety of photographs that show it in its environment (wide shot) all the way to zooming in on the smallest detail.

PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITIONS AT THE MCN

Since 2011, Roger has also been involved in the creation of photographic exhibitions presented at CMN. His first challenge was to design Awesome Arctic: Images of our research in the North , an exhibition aimed to showcase the work of the museum’s researchers in the Canadian North. Roger had to select from over 20,000 images accumulated over decades, fifty representing different aspects of the Museum’s scientific research and fieldwork.

To help them design the layout of the images, the Awesome Arctic exhibition team worked in a scale environment of the exhibition space. Here, Roger works at the mini photo wall to finalize the layout of images of museum botanists at work. Image: Mariana Lafrance © CMN

To help them design the layout of the images, the Awesome Arctic exhibition team worked in a scale environment of the exhibition space. Here, Roger works at the mini photo wall to finalize the layout of images of museum botanists at work. Image: Mariana Lafrance © CMN

To learn more about his first experience designing an exhibition, check out the Expanding my Horizons: Awesome Arctic – Part One post written by Roger then discover all the logistics surrounding this exhibition in Expanding my Horizons: Awesome Arctic – Part Two.

Happy with this first success, Roger was then offered to design the exhibition of photographs of lichens for the Stone Wall Gallery, in the basement of CMN.

Then came the exhibition This is Canada’s Arctic , an outdoor exhibition held in Confederation Park during Winterlude 2013.

This is Canada's Arctic! presented by the Canadian Museum of Nature during Winterlude 2013

This is Canada’s Arctic! presented by the Canadian Museum of Nature during Winterlude 2013

Finally, we had the privilege of being the first, outside museum employees, to see a sample of one of the eighteen 5 feet high enlargments that will be part of the Flora of the Canadian Arctic Expedition exhibition. This exhibition will be shown at the CMN from April to November 2013 and will allow the public to admire some botanical specimens that were collected during the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1916 as well as some dried plants collected, 100 years later, in other words, last summer during the researchers’ expedition on the Soper River.

 Elegant paintbrush specimen (Castilleja elegans) collected in the Arctic and stored in the museum’s National Herbarium of Canada.  Mariana Lafrance © CMN


Elegant paintbrush specimen (Castilleja elegans) collected in the Arctic and stored in the museum’s National Herbarium of Canada. Mariana Lafrance © CMN

DOCUMENT, PRESERVE AND SHARE THE BOTANICAL WONDERS OF THE TUNDRA

The evening ended with a presentation by Paul on the project Arctic Flora of Canada and Alaska which will eventually serve as the reference for anybody who requires accurate and up-to-date information on Arctic plant species or wants to identify Arctic plants in the field or herbarium.

arctous rubra - Roger Bull © CMN

arctous rubra – Roger Bull © CMN

Paul showed us a new tool they use to scan herbarium specimens, the HerbScan scanner, a flatbed scanner that is inversed. Mounted specimen to be scanned are deposited on a mobile platform, which when actionned, rises all the way to the surface of the scanner. An ingenious system that reduces the risk of damage to the specimens since they no longer have to be turned upside down.

For all present, this evening proved to be a most pleasant and surprising discovery! The work and involvement in the field of photography of the CMN’s botanical research team definitely deserves to be better known. Let’s spread the word to other photography clubs so that they are invited to share their passions with many more photographers! Thank you Paul & Roger!

Better go back to mounting specimens. With the 1000 specimens, to be turned into 2500 herbarium sheets, that they brought back from their 2012 expedition, tomorrow is not the day mounting volunteers will be unemployed 😉

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