JOSIE ISELIN’S ART had always been centered around familiar forms found in nature — rocks, shells, and even sea glass chanced upon at beaches, which she regards as places “of discovery.” But over the past decade, the photographer, author, and book designer’s artistic gaze has narrowed further down to a living form that reigns in the liminal space where ocean meets land — seaweed.
An avid beach-walker, Iselin became intrigued by the bits of washed-up kelp that she kept coming across during her regular rambles along the San Francisco oceanfront. More so when she realized that she could capture some of the incredible beauty of these “seaweed scraps” with her flatbed scanner. (Iselin almost exclusively uses a flatbed scanner and computer to make her imagery — a technique that she says offers her the fluidity “to render and design with three-dimensional objects.”)
“As soon as I realized I could capture the fantastic palette of colors and really strong and diverse forms of seaweed, I wanted to start telling their story because they are so foundationally important to our near-shore oceans, but their story just wasn’t being told,” she says.
Seaweeds, Iselin points out, are algae, not plants, which they are commonly mistaken for. But like plants, they play a crucial role in marine ecosystems, providing nutrients and energy for ocean animals at the bottom of the food chain and up. They also oxygenate waters, store carbon, and are a source of food and income for millions of people across the world.
Exploring the world of marine algae — the slim band of the ocean that stretches from the intertidal zone to about a depth of 300 feet under the ocean surface, where light still penetrates — opened up for Iselin an understanding of and love for a unique realm that she sees as abundant with both life and possibility, but which at the same time is under threat from multiple ecological stressors.