Natalie Cisneros, a west-coaster-turned-east-coaster, describes herself as an “all around creative.” Her areas of expertise, though, are photography and digital image editing. She’s been taking photos and “creating things” for over five years now, with a portfolio that includes timelapses, films, and portraits. We spoke to Natalie about her latest photography project, Paper Virus, which is a study in naturally occurring geometry and replication.
What made you want to take on the subject of viruses? Do you have a background or interest in science?
Natalie Cisneros: In general, I am interested in how things work in nature and am always fascinated in exploring the things we cannot see closely. But with this project I stumbled upon the notion of the virus through the origami itself. A friend of mine who is an origamist began to teach me how to fold one of the platonic solids—an icosahedron (the icosahedron used in the project is actually a stellation of the core shape). I thought the shape was so interesting that I began looking into where in nature this core shape existed. Turns out, various forms of viruses such as the common cold, have an icosahedral shell, which holds the RNA (or DNA, depending on the virus) of the actual virus particles. Once the virus enters the cell, this shell dissolves, releasing the RNA/DNA and essentially hijacking the cell’s production for its own, and begins reproducing. Once formed, the new viruses will then infect other cells and the whole process starts again. I began to get more and more excited about the idea of creating these physical non-destructive ‘creative’ viruses.
Is Paper Virus meant to be wearable, or is it just a photography project? Might it become an installation eventually?
It is for now just a photography project, although I was looking into origami fashion before I shot this series. I love the idea of distinct wearable geometry. I do see this as an installation at some point and have several rough ideas on what this might look like.
What’s your construction process like, and what materials do you use? Are there any steps in your process that mimic the evolution of a virus?
I began with plain white paper, folding 30 tetrahedral shapes which, when put together, would form an icosahedron. Each completed icosahedron would take me around three hours to complete. When I was not diligently at work folding, I would also spend hours writing out my ideas and researching anything related to this geometry. After creating around 20 completed icosahedrons, I quickly grew impatient of my slow folding progress. So, I decided to take what I had finished to my studio and shoot. Having a model interact with these gave me a little more grounding in the project, because even though I only had 20, I could better visualize my final frame. After the shoot, I sat down and created a couple photo storyboards, which gave me one more level of focus.
Now, I had to make a decision: to continue working on this practically or take what I had to post [production]. For the sake of my sanity and the other creative ideas I wanted to try, I decided to take this to post.
For post, Robert-Isaiah Brown was my go-to on how to achieve the look I wanted. We started with the creation of the icosahedrons. Robert-Isaiah created digital doubles of these in a 3D environment while I scanned in the texture and the folds of the paper that was used in the real ones. The folds and texture were arranged so they could easily be mapped to the digital versions of these shapes. Once we got one looking right, Robert-Isaiah set the scene and environment up in 3D just as I had shot it in reality.
With the elements now in a digital environment, we could run dynamic simulations of these icosahedrons moving through the space and past the model. Robert-Isaiah figured out how to contain the simulations in a way that allowed the model to not be completely overrun by these shapes. Once we were happy with the simulation and how it was interacting with the model, Robert-Isaiah essentially froze the simulation and began the process of rendering this out. Rendering now became about tweaking settings to get the most authentic look. Once rendered, Robert-Isaiah then handed these back over to me where I put all the rendered layers together in Photoshop, applied my color and made the final adjustments to the image.
I would say my overall creative process and drive to see these images completed more mimicked a virus than any specific step. While starting with just a flash of an idea, this idea spread into the physical by spending hours of folding, writing, researching, shooting, texturing, rendering, etc.
Could these origami structures serve as a visual representation of the way viruses and ideas spread in 2012?
These shapes have been around since antiquity. Plato wrote about them as he was describing how he believed our universe and man came to be. For me, I found it fascinating that this type of shape not only happens in nature but it directly affects us. I also liked the juxtaposition of creating these ‘deadly’ shapes out of something we use to create things. Plato believed that our physical world was ever-changing and that the world we originated from was eternal, never changing. This is for me the beauty of tackling this as a photograph—viruses constantly evolve and they also change us, trying to capture a dispersion forever is something exciting to me.
I do believe ideas can become ‘viral,’ but I don’t think this is anything new. Plato’s mention of this type of shape led to a whole type of geometry that was considered law for around 2,000 years! I think just like Plato’s description of the physical world, ideas and creativity can change and move us in ways we hadn’t thought about before.