Diatom Map Art

Tuesday, November 15th, 02016 at 13:31 UTC

It’s always funny how the past repeats itself.

We keep a shared folder called “inspiration”, at the office (well, we also have “inspiration – short list” too). In it there are lots of great ideas from branding examples to PDFs, to maps. We’ve been collecting things we see and like for years now. Some of it influences our work.

Recently, we stumbled cross this beautiful video about Klaus Kemp who is “The Diatomist”. Diatoms are tiny, single celled algae. They number in the hundreds of thousands. Back when the Victorians were inventing the precursor to the internet, they were also collecting, cleaning and arranging these little diatoms onto glass slides to be shown off at parties.

Klaus Kemp still does this today. He is working at the tiniest of levels, moving things just microns to form beautiful kaleidoscope effects.

The video, dedication and results are impressive to say the least, but after watching, something was triggered in the back of our head. Something like, “We’ve seen this before haven’t we?” We turned to our inspiration folder and after a bit of digging, we stubbled across these works by Jenny Odell.

She takes Google Satellite photos and cuts out various features and puts them into interesting compositions. Klaus Kemp works at the microscopic scale and Jenny Odell works at the macro scale. The Eames’ powers of 10 video is hard at work again!

The other place we’ve encountered Jenny Odell’s work is at Google itself. She created one of the gigantic murals that was painted onto the side of one of the Google Data Centers. These are the 21st Century Diatoms, what appear to be tiny, single celled organisms from far above out planet.

Jenny Odell mentions the term Lepidopterist when talking about her work. That’s the term used when describing people who collect butterflies and arrange them. In a similar way, she is collecting objects and arranging them in an aesthetic way, just like Klaus Kemp does.

Klaus Kemp’s work has a direct lineage to the Victorians before him. Jenny Odell is working with something new, satellite photos, but the output is something old. Maybe that’s why we like it so much? It is beautiful and familiar.