tim savas

Biological Time Lapse Photography

Alongside building the camera actuators in this project, I deployed them to capture plant growth time lapses. The selections on this page were shot while conducting plant science research at the Temporal Ecology Lab at Harvard University and the Open Agriculture Initiative at MIT Media Lab. I see them as equal parts data and new media art.

Visual Data Across Time

I started shooting plant time lapse photography out of necessity for my woody species research. My lab group was studying how native woody species respond to varying spring environments. For the work, I incubated dormant individuals inside of "spring" growth chambers, and recorded observational measurements of their growth stages according to standard rubrics in the literature.

The research was an exercise in scientific objectivity. I noticed that my plant subjects' growth stages were often not as discrete as the rubrics were advertising them to be. For example, the "swollen bud" and "first leaf" stages often appeared ambiguous, seeming to have unrepresented stages in between.

I shot these time lapses to collect a higher resolution visual data set than that offered by the standard practice of twice-weekly observational measurements. Each is a fuller picture of a plant's development at all points in time over the course of its lifecycle.


The aesthetic quality of the images also compelled the work. In collecting visual data for my lab, I created, on the other side, new media art. I see the collective project as a demo of how computational and mechanical tool building can forward knowledge, and propel human expression in the process.

Hamamelis virginiana | f1.8 | 2 sec | ISO: 100

Syringa vulgaris | f1.2 | 2 sec | ISO: 100

Brassica oleracea var. sabellica | f4 | 3 sec | ISO: 800

Syringa chinensis | f3.2 | 2 sec | ISO: 100

Hibiscus syriacus | f2.8 | 3 sec | ISO: 200

Brassica oleracea var. italica | f2.8 | 3 sec | ISO: 100

775 670 3447 / tsavas[@]media.mit.edu