Josie Iselin combines the art and science of our coastal oceans in large-scale photographic prints and in seven books she has produced as author, artist and designer. Her most recent books are Beach: A Book of Treasure (2010), An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed (2014, winner of the Tiffany Award) and The Curious World of Seaweed (2019), an ambitious combination of essays and historical as well as contemporary imagery, funded in part by the San Francisco Arts Commission.
This book chronicles the natural history as well as the history of science of sixteen iconic Pacific coast seaweeds and kelps. Iselin uses her visual art practice—the act of looking closely—as the stimulus for her scientific research and storytelling. You can often find her on various coasts at low tide exploring the tide pools. Josie Iselin holds a BA in visual and environmental studies from Harvard and an MFA from San Francisco State University. For over twenty-five years she has used her flatbed scanner and computer for generating imagery. Iselin exhibits large-scale fine art prints at select galleries and museums, advocates for ocean health through education and speaks widely on the confluence of art and science.
The beach is the place I go to be as near the ocean as I can be, to learn about it, to feel it, to breath it. It is a liminal space between worlds,This edge of the ocean a place of discovery that has occupied my art making and writing for decades. The flora of this zone—the intertidal zone—are the seaweeds and kelps and they offer a nexus where art and science can co-mingle seamlessly. The residue of the seaweeds and kelps found on the beach have brought back to the studio and placed on my scanner, have taken me deep into their world; They have offered me, a photographer, designer and writer, a unique opportunity to explore their ocean universe by bringing the visual and the narrative together.
Diving deep into the science of their ecology as well experiment with image making using their direct scans, cyanotypes, historical taxonomic imagery and now, mapping and survey data is a privilege I hope can bring insight into coastal restoration and advancing ocean health.
I started making imagery of and learning about seaweed about fifteen years ago. I included my first scans and research into seaweed in my 2010 book titled Beach: A Book of Treasure . I immediately started work on the next seaweed book, An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed and the most recent book, The Curious World of Seaweed (Heyday, 2019). My writing grew more scientifically substantial but maintained its lyrical and personal touch. I had made countless portraits of these “intertidal heroes” as I called the seaweeds, using my scanner as a camera, making large fine art prints and exhibiting in galleries. The more I learn about the science of the tide pools the more I understand how limitless the interactions are between species, between place and tide and algal wonder. Can the visual wonder, the process of looking intently, bring us closer to understanding life along this watery edge where the oceans meet the rocky continents of our planet?