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Joyce Campbell, New Zealand
Ephedrine from Ephedra Californica, 2006
Photographic materials on Glass
11 1/2 in. x 11 1/2 in. (29.21 cm x 29.21 cm)

Object Type: Photography
Technique: Ambrotype
Credit Line: Gift of Joyce Campbell
Accession Number: 2007.4.2

In her series LA Botanicals, Joyce Campbell updates the antique photographic method of ambrotype, which was developed in 1850, to create contemporary portraits of plants that have grown in Los Angeles for some 150 years. Ambrotype derives from the Greek word for “immortal,” and describes a process that fixes an image onto a glass plate. The image is elusive, as it comes to life only when seen against a dark backdrop. Campbell employs this method to immortalize the ephemeral life of plants that tolerate the semi-arid conditions of Southern California. Among these hardy survivors is the Ephedra Californica, whose fragile form belies its powerful effect when ingested. The plant is the source of ephedrine, an alkaloid that works by increasing the activity of noradrenaline. A stimulant that crosses the blood brain barrier, ephedrine is similar in molecular structure to adrenaline and methamphetamine. An element in traditional Chinese medicine since the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), ephedrine has long been used as a decongestant and bronchodilator. Campbell also notes ephedrine’s role as an “aphrodisiac and proven miracle fat burner. Treatment for asthmatics, narcoleptics and sufferers of myasthenia gravis.” In a larger dose, however, ephedrine also can produce nervousness, insomnia, vertigo, and hallucinations. Campbell’s ghostly ambrotype possibly carries that significance only to those who know the hidden powers of ephedrine. Mary Davis MacNaughton Associate Professor of Art History

"L.A. Botanical, exhibited in 2006 at the Starkwhite Gallery in Auckland and, in 2007, at the G727 Gallery in Los Angeles, represents the beginning of an ongoing project to document the plant species growing in Los Angeles for which there is a documented use, including “food, medicine, weapon, abortive, analgesic, fuel, stimulant, building material, deadly toxin or mind-altering entheogen.” In this manner, Campbell attempts to show the sustaining plant life growing in the city famed for its concrete highways, car culture and ultimately unsustainable way of life.

[For L.A. Botanical], Campbell used anachronistic photographic techniques, which date back to the beginnings of photography in the 19th and early 20th century. In such photographs as Ephedrine and LSA (Lysergic Acid Amide), Campbell used the ambrotype process developed in the 1850s, which creates a positive photographic image on a sheet of glass using the wet plate collodion process. The artist exposes the wet glass plate to light and, once developed and fixed, the negative image appears to be positive when placed against a black background. Due to lower costs, this process replaced the daguerreotype and was widely used for portraits. In this manner, each photograph in L.A. Botanical becomes a portrait of the plant it delicately portrays."


Written by Megan Downing (SC '08), 2007-08 Academic Year Wilson Intern.

Object Description
Bronchial dilator, stimulant, appetite suppressant, aphrodisiac and proven miracle fat burner. Treatment for asthmatics, narcoleptics and sufferers of myasthenia gravis. Maxx Fuel for hot crash-dieter/bodybuilder hookups. Glass plate ambrotype.

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