Archiving Eden

Vault, National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation

Dornith Doherty Photographic Projects, Vault Interior, Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Archival Pigment Photograph, 30″ x 38.5″ in, 2009, Copyright © 2012 Dornith Doherty.

Since 2008 photographer Dornith Doherty has been working in collaboration with renowned biologists at two of the most comprehensive international seed banks in the world: the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service’s National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Colorado, and the Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in England. In this era of climate change and declining biodiversity, by collecting, researching seed biology, and storing seeds in secure 0º F vaults, seed banks play a vital role in ensuring the survival of genetic diversity in wild and agricultural species. Serving as a global botanical backup system, these privately and publicly funded institutions assure the opportunity for reintroduction of species should a catastrophic event or civil strife affect a key ecosystem somewhere in the world.


Dornith Doherty Photographic Projects, Red Yucca, Archival Pigment Photograph, © 2012 Dornith Doherty.

Perhaps timely, is Doherty’s work which explores the ever more complex relationship between the natural environment and human agency through photographic projects focusing on landscape stewardship and genetic resource preservation. Doherty documents the role of seed banks and their preservation efforts in the face of climate change, the extinction of natural species and decreased agricultural diversity. Traveling from the Arctic tundra of the Svalbard Archipelago to the Sonoran desert in Arizona since 2010, her work includes large format photographs of key global seed banks as well as archival pigment prints and digital chromogenic lenticular prints of x-ray collages of seeds and plants, that trace in precise detail the spaces and technology involved in this important effort.


Dornith Doherty Photographic Projects, Red Poppy, Archival Pigment Photograph, © 2012 Dornith Doherty.

Utilizing the archives on-site x-ray equipment that is routinely used for viability assessments of accessioned seeds, she documents and subsequently collages the seeds and tissue samples stored in these crucial collections. The amazing visual power of magnified x-ray images, which springs from the technology’s ability to record what is invisible to the human eye, illuminates many considerations not only of the complex philosophical, anthropological, and ecological issues surrounding the role of science and human agency in relation to gene banking, but also of the poetic questions about life and time on a macro and micro scale.


Dornith Doherty Photographic Projects, Corn Seedlings, Digital Chromogenic Lenticular Photograph, © 2012 Dornith Doherty.


Dornith Doherty Photographic Projects, Thirst, Digital Chromogenic Lenticular Photograph, © 2012 Dornith Doherty


Dornith received a B.A. from Rice University in Houston and a MFA in Photography from Yale University. She currently resides in Southlake and is a Professor of Photography at the University of North Texas and a member of the Board of Directors of the Society for Photographic Education. She is a recipient of grants from the Fulbright Foundation, the Japan Foundation, the United States Department of the Interior, the Indiana Arts Commission, and the Society for Contemporary Photography. Her work has featured in over 60 national and international exhibitions. Read about her accomplishments here