Alan S. Heilman, retired UT professor of botany, devoted 37 years to teaching generations of young biology students at UT. He devoted even more years to recording the miraculous structures of plants in his extraordinary photographs.
Heilman decided to partner with the UT Libraries to preserve and share his photographs of flowering plants, ferns, mosses, and lichens taken over more than sixty years. Several years ago Heilman began sorting through his slides, selecting what he considered his best shots, and bringing batches of color slides to Digital Library Production for scanning. The resulting collaboration is The Botanical Photography of Alan S. Heilman, one of the UT Libraries’ digital collections available for viewing by all on the Libraries’ website.
Visitors to The Botanical Photography of Alan S. Heilman will immediately notice the photographer’s particular fascination with the intricate forms of plants: many of his photographs are close-ups — even microscopic enlargements — of their subjects. Heilman’s experimentation with extreme close-up views even preceded his decision to study botany; it dates from his chance discovery, as a young high school student, of a hometown chapter of the American Society of Amateur Microscopists. Photomicrographs became one of Heilman’s passions, and extreme close-ups of pistils, stamens, and other anatomical structures of plants have continued to be one of his photographic specialties.
Heilman joined the (now defunct) Botany Department at the University of Tennessee in 1960 and taught general botany and plant anatomy until his retirement in 1997. He continues to pursue his photographic artistry and often can be seen at the UT Gardens, carefully staging his next shot.
Perhaps Heilman’s framing is so exact and his execution so perfect because he risks actual film in making his shots. Heilman has never owned a digital camera. Scanning performed by library staff is the only digital process used in creation of The Botanical Photography of Alan S. Heilman.
Read more about Dr. Heilman’s artistry and technical process in the 2010-2011 Library Development Review.