What must have been an awkward assignment for a writer has been carried out in a commendable fashion by Terri Dunn Chace. We normally see photographs used to illustrate a text whereas in “Seeing Seeds” the text was written to accompany the photographs.

"Seeing Seeds" - photographs by Robert Llewellyn; written by Teri Dunn Chace
“Seeing Seeds” – photographs by Robert Llewellyn; written by Teri Dunn Chace

Robert Llewellyn’s photographs have illustrated a long list of books and two recent volumes of similar vein to this were his “Seeing Trees” and “Seeing Flowers” where Terri Dunn Chace also added the text.

Because of this arrangement where the photographs come first and the text is secondary one has to question if the book has anything to say or is it simply a picture book with extensive captioning.  I believe that is about what it amount to.

A clematis seedhead
A clematis seedhead

The photographic method used is one not commonly seen. A few years back Carsten Krieger explained a method he uses which gives very similar results. The plants are placed on a sheet of white perspex which is lit from behind, with additional fill-in lighting on the plant from the front, so that when photographed the plant appears to be floating on the page. It gives an effect very like a botanical painting.

Physalis alkekengi - Chinese Lantern
Physalis alkekengi – Chinese Lantern
Ricinus communis - Castor Bean
Ricinus communis – Castor Bean

Many of the photographs used in the book are available to view on Robert Llewellyn’s website and I feel they look far better on the computer screen than on the printed page. In print, they lacked the luminescence which is apparent on the screen and were somewhat flat. That said, they are an interesting collection of images and give an insight into the detail of seeds which we might not otherwise notice.

Nigella damascena - Love-in-a-Mist
Nigella damascena – Love-in-a-Mist

The text is a functional and comprehensive treatment for the images used but, perhaps, no more than that. The author is not telling her own story and the writing seems to lack the intensity of interest one would expect were it so.

After a substantial introductory section dealing with the purpose of seeds, their diversity and function the rest of the book describes the various plants illustrated in the groups in which they are organised: Garden Flowers, Weeds and Wildflowers, Herbs, Spices, Fibers (sic.) and Medicine, Fruits and Vegetables and, finally, Shrubs and Trees.

[Seeing Seeds, Robert Llewellyn with Teri Dunn Chace, Timber Press, Oregon, 2015, HB, 254pp, £20, ISBN: 978-1-60469-492-5]

Cucumis metuliferus - Horned Melon
Cucumis metuliferus – Horned Melon
Callicarpa americana - Beautyberry
Callicarpa americana – Beautyberry
Koelreuteria paniculata - Goldenrain Tree
Koelreuteria paniculata – Goldenrain Tree

Paddy Tobin

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