Microbiologist Uses Bacterial Growth To Recreate Famous Portraits


“During my graduate research I invented a new medium,” so says microbiologist-turned-'visual artist' Zachary Copfer. In fact, what he's managed to invent is something quite remarkable, developing entire images using only bacteria.

The bacteria 'Serratia marcescens' produced this portrait of Charles Darwin.“The process is very similar to darkroom photography,” Copfer states on his website, “only the enlarger has been replaced by a radiation source and instead of photographic paper this process uses a petri dish coated with a living bacterial emulsion.”

Copfer himself calls the entire process 'bacteriography', and one that involves first transforming a particular bacteria into a kind of fluorescent protein compound, before applying to a plate (photo paper). Next, Copfer creates a photo 'negative' and places this over the plate, before exposing it to radiation (replacing light). The photo is then allowed to 'develop' naturally, with the radiation having had an effect on exactly where and how the bacteria grows, producing the quite unique image. The plate is later covered with a layer of acrylic and resin to isolate and seal the bacteria in place.

“I seek to create work that is less of an intersection of art and science and more of a genuine fusion of the two.”

Richard Birkett