31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 3 June 2007
This book has done much to banish my antipathy to pollen. Yes the fertile dust might make my life a misery for a few weeks each year - but it is just so beautiful. Kesseler and Harley, artist and scientist, have taken on a remarkable challenge. To present the intimate details of a plant's sex life in the context of the aesthetics of the containers of sperm.
The book opens with a gentle reminder of half forgotten biology lessons. The sex life of plants is taken far from the dry textbook and into a lush world of colour and improbably complex shapes. Images that have been mediated through computers from the electron microscope manage to take on the sensuality and eroticism of Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings. The anther of the Witch Hazel peers like the eye of a crab; cowslip presents a turtle-faced grain and the common daisy has pollen that could double as a space ship.
Perhaps the most delightful section of the book is the series of paired images of pollen and flowers - the microscopic detail of the pollen as stunning as the more accessible beauty of the plant itself.
Pollen is so small. It was only in the late seventeenth century that it was identified as the stuff of life. Madeline Harley, an internationally renowned expert on pollen, takes us through the history of discovery, right up to the developments in microscopy that have allowed the exquisite forms to be revealed.
While Harley's interest is understandable, artist Rob Kesseler's obsession is quite surprising. He has been collecting, preparing and studying plants and their pollen for years. He worked recently at Kew Gardens where he strung banners, featuring hugely magnified grains of pollen, among the trees.
One of the most delightful aspects if this book is that it is obviously the result of a very genuine collaboration; an artist sensitive to the world of science and a scientist with an acute aesthetic awareness for the world she studies.
And we would all do well to listen to one of Kesseler's closing comments, a sentiment that he has quite obviously taken to heart. "Perhaps we have lost the habit and the pleasure of looking for its own sake, as a first step towards a detailed understanding."